Does Congress need a chief data officer?

New legislation cosponsored by Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.) aims to stand up a commission to explore how to infuse real-time structured data into lawmaking.

New legislation cosponsored by Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.) aims to stand up a commission to explore how to infuse real-time structured data into lawmaking. Tom Williams / Getty Images

A new joint resolution would establish a bipartisan commission to look at what legislators need in terms of data, evidence and professional capacity.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers thinks Congress needs to get more serious about incorporating evidence and data into legislation and about developing professional capacity to support the move.

The Congressional Evidence-Based Policymaking Resolution from Reps. Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.), William Timmons (R-S.C.), Joe Morelle (D-N.Y.) and Dean Philips (D-Minn.) would establish a bipartisan commission that includes former members and current staffers as well as representation from the Congressional Data Task Force or other support agency. That includes the Government Publishing Office, the Congressional Budget Office, the Government Accountability Office and the Library of Congress.

The commission will examine ways to incorporate real-time structured data into the lawmaking process and make recommendations on boosting congressional data science capacity including whether or not to establish a congressional chief data officer. Additionally, the commission will make recommendations to federal agencies about generating evidence on program outcomes and effectiveness.

The resolution is an outgrowth of the Evidence-Based Policy Commission and the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act of 2018, which established the federal CDO Council.

"Sound evidence and data are needed to better design policies, measure their impacts and ultimately improve outcomes for the American people," Kilmer said in a statement. "I am excited to see the impact that the Congressional Evidence-Based Policymaking Resolution can have to make government work better and to restore public trust."

Robert Shea, who served on a congressionally-chartered commission that helped scope the 2018 law on evidence-based policymaking told FCW, "I'm all for more levers. I'm skeptical of their impact but I'm all for continuing to try to experiment." Shea, who is currently CEO of the consultancy GovNavigators said that all the areas the resolution covers are "significant gaps" in congressional capacity, and that "a bipartisan commission coming in to fill them will be time well served."

The legislation calls for the costs of operating the commission to be split evenly between the House and the Senate. The administrative staff will include a director and up to eight full-time staffers and four part-time staffers.

The move to set up the commission is a new chapter in a long-term effort to improve the use of technology by lawmakers and staff and to help members better understand technology. About 10 years ago, Congress introduced requirements to publish U.S. Code and legislation in machine-readable XML formats and more recently Congress rescoped the duties of GAO to include some of the functions of the old Office of Technology Assessment on a limited basis.