Ryan and Murray’s Next Big Project: Better Use of Big Data

The budget wunderkinds want the federal government to use data to improve its efficiency.

Members of the bipartisan budget conference Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) (L) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) discuss their initial meeting at the U.S. Capitol October 17, 2013 in Washington, DC. Congress voted last night to fund the federal budget and increase the nation's debt limit, ending a 16-day government shutdown. 
National Journal
Dylan Scott
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Dylan Scott
April 17, 2015, 9:04 a.m.

House Ways and Means Chair­man Paul Ry­an and Sen. Patty Mur­ray, who forged a ma­jor bi­par­tis­an budget deal in 2013, are on a new quest: har­ness­ing Big Data to make the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment run more ef­fi­ciently.

The duo is re-up­ping its push for a bi­par­tis­an com­mis­sion to ex­plore how the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment could make data bet­ter avail­able to pub­lic and private re­search­ers. Dis­cus­sions with House and Sen­ate gov­ern­ment re­form com­mit­tee staffs have been pos­it­ive, an aide said, and they have in­dic­ated that the bill could be marked up soon.

The pan­el would ex­plore wheth­er and how the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment could cre­ate a clear­ing­house for spend­ing, tax, and sur­vey data. The hope would be that gov­ern­ment and non-gov­ern­ment ana­lysts would use the data to re­search how ef­fi­ciently fed­er­al pro­grams work and how they could be im­proved.

One ex­ample, per an aide: The Census Bur­eau con­ducts a reg­u­lar house­hold sur­vey on wel­fare be­ne­fits, in­clud­ing food stamps. But it doesn’t in­clude ad­min­is­trat­ive data from the De­part­ment of Ag­ri­cul­ture on the food-stamp pro­gram. Bring­ing those two data­sets to­geth­er in the clear­ing­house would the­or­et­ic­ally provide a fuller pic­ture of how the pro­gram is work­ing.

The 2014 ver­sion of the Ry­an-Mur­ray bill didn’t earn much pub­lic hoopla, but re­search­ers at think tanks such as the Urb­an In­sti­tute praised the bill when it was in­tro­duced in Novem­ber. Obama also en­dorsed it in his FY 2016 budget re­leased in Feb­ru­ary.

The com­mis­sion, for which Ry­an and Mur­ray re­quest a $3 mil­lion budget, would have 15 months to com­pile its re­com­mend­a­tions and would need 75 per­cent of its mem­bers to sign off on its re­port be­fore send­ing it to the pres­id­ent.

Pres­id­ent Obama, House Speak­er John Boehner, Minor­ity Lead­er Nancy Pelosi, Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell, and Minor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id would each be al­lowed to ap­point three mem­bers.

“If we want to make gov­ern­ment more ef­fect­ive, we need to know what works,” Ry­an said in a state­ment. “Too of­ten, Wash­ing­ton re­wards ef­fort in­stead of res­ults, and this com­mis­sion will help us change the fo­cus. So I want to thank my good friend Sen­at­or Mur­ray for her hard work on this bill and urge all my col­leagues to sup­port it.”

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