Category Archives: Government

Barriers to Using Government Data: Extended Analysis of the U.S. Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking’s Survey of Federal Agencies and Offices

Source: Nick Hart, Kody Carmody, Bipartisan Policy Center, October 2018

Policymakers face many demands from constituents, budgetary processes, and their commitment to providing good services for the American people. This last concern is made easier when policymakers have access to reliable information to guide their decisions. But access to data and the ability to turn those data into evidence to inform decisions can be hampered by legal restrictions on access to sensitive data, constitutional constraints, and the availability of resources.

In 2016, Congress and the president established the U.S. Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking and charged it with developing a strategy for addressing these barriers. During the commission’s fact-finding efforts, it launched a survey of agencies and units across the federal government to better understand existing barriers to data access and use. The data collected in the survey then provided initial evidence that the commission considered in making its recommendations.

Extended analysis of the commission survey confirms much of what the commission concluded in its final report, validating identified legal and regulatory barriers to using data. The extended analysis also leads to new findings:
1. Federal offices perceive that their roles in evidence-building activities are in niches and largely do not perceive their data collection as for a broad range of purposes like evaluation that would require better coordination across an agency.
2. Units within federal agencies exhibit wide variation in their capacity for data sharing and linkage. 3. Challenges to using data for evidence building are distributed across virtually every policy domain. Respondents identify federal tax information as especially difficult to access and use.
4. Despite some offices reportedly lacking resources to conduct evidence-building activities, it is still quite common for offices to conduct at least some data sharing and linking. However, agencies still indicate substantial gaps in developing metadata, sharing with third parties, conducting disclosure reviews, and engaging in disclosure avoidance protocols to protect data. Statistical agencies were by far better positioned for this work than other agencies…..

Government Reorganization: Key Questions to Assess Agency Reform Efforts

Source: United States Government Accountability Office, Report to Congressional Requesters, GAO-18-427, June 2018

From the fast facts:
A March 2017 executive order requiring executive branch agency reorganization is intended to improve efficiency and effectiveness. If it works, it could save billions of dollars—but similar reform efforts in the past have not always come to fruition.
Our prior work on government reform indicates that agencies can change if they
– follow an effective process
– allocate sufficient implementation resources
– consider workforce needs during and after the reform

In this report, we provide questions that Congress can ask in its critical oversight role to determine whether agencies are on track for effective change.

American Democracy After Trump’s First Year

Source: Gretchen Helmke, Brendan Nyhan, John Carey and Susan Stokes, Bright Line Watch, Survey — Wave 4, February 8, 2018

In January 2018, as Donald Trump completed his first year as president, Bright Line Watch conducted its fourth expert survey on the state of U.S. democracy. At the same time, we conducted an identical public survey – our second – with a nation­al­ly rep­re­sen­ta­tive sample of Americans. This approach allows us to assess whether experts and/or the public believe the quality of democracy has changed in the U.S. during President Trump’s tenure. We also asked respon­dents to rate the overall quality of democracy in a dozen other countries, including Canada, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Venezuela, allowing us to assess how experts and the public believe America stacks up against other countries. Finally, we dis­ag­gre­gate results from our public survey to see how changes in these per­cep­tions vary by approval of Trump.

The overall picture is sobering. Though the public rates American democracy more neg­a­tive­ly than our experts do (as in our previous survey), both experts and the public agree that the per­for­mance of U.S. democracy has declined. This per­cep­tion of decline is mirrored for many specific demo­c­ra­t­ic prin­ci­ples, though in some cases we observe sig­nif­i­cant diver­gence between Trump approvers and disapprovers.

Survey finds reasons to worry about U.S. democracy
Source: Sandra Knispel, Futurity, April 19, 2018

A new survey of political science scholars and the general public finds reasons to be concerned about American democracy.

Long-Proprietary Congressional Research Reports Will Now Be Made Public

Source: Charles S. Clark, Government Executive, March 23, 2018

Lawmakers who long protected their right to control reports from the Congressional Research Service now face a new era of full disclosure.

Buried in the 2,232-page fiscal 2018 omnibus spending bill Congress approved and President Trump signed is a much-debated provision to require the Library of Congress, beginning 90 days after the bill’s enactment, to post all the lawmaker-requested reports on a central website….

Political Status of Puerto Rico: Brief Background and Recent Developments for Congress

Source: R. Sam Garrett, Congressional Research Service, CRS Report, R44721, June 12, 2017

Puerto Rico lies approximately 1,000 miles southeast of Miami and 1,500 miles from Washington, DC. Despite being far outside the continental United States, the island has played a significant role in American politics and policy since the United States acquired Puerto Rico from Spain in 1898.

Puerto Rico’s political status—referring to the relationship between the federal government and a territorial one—is an undercurrent in virtually every policy matter on the island. In a June 11, 2017, plebiscite (popular vote), 97.2% of voters chose statehood when presented with three options on the ballot. Turnout for the plebiscite was 23.0% of eligible voters. Some parties and other groups opposing the plebiscite had urged their bases to boycott the vote. (These data are based on 99.5% of precincts reporting results.) After initially including only statehood and free association/independence options, an amended territorial law ultimately permitted three options on the plebiscite ballot: statehood, free association/independence, or current territorial status. ….

…. Congress has not enacted any recent legislation devoted specifically to status. Two bills have been introduced during the 115th Congress. H.R. 260 proposes to admit Puerto Rico as a state if residents choose statehood in a plebiscite. H.R. 900 proposes a popular vote between independence and free association (which entails an ongoing relationship between independent countries). In the 114th Congress, H.R. 727, which did not advance beyond introduction, would have authorized a plebiscite on statehood. ….

…. This report provides policy and historical background about Puerto Rico’s political status—referring to the relationship between the federal government and a territorial one. Congress has not altered the island’s status since 1952, when it approved a territorial constitution. Status is the lifeblood of Puerto Rican politics, spanning policy and partisan lines in ways that are unfamiliar on the mainland. ….

Filibusters and Cloture in the Senate

Source: Valerie Heitshusen, Richard S. Beth, Congressional Research Service, CRS Report, RL30360, April 7, 2017

The filibuster is widely viewed as one of the Senate’s most characteristic procedural features. Filibustering includes any use of dilatory or obstructive tactics to block a measure by preventing it from coming to a vote. The possibility of filibusters exists because Senate rules place few limits on Senators’ rights and opportunities in the legislative process. In particular, a Senator who seeks recognition usually has a right to the floor if no other Senator is speaking, and then that Senator may speak for as long as he or she wishes. Also, there is no motion by which a simple majority of the Senate can stop a debate and allow itself to vote in favor of an amendment, a bill or resolution, or most other debatable questions. Most bills, indeed, are potentially subject to at least two filibusters before the Senate votes on final passage: first, a filibuster on a motion to proceed to the bill’s consideration and, second, after the Senate agrees to this motion, a filibuster on the bill itself. Senate Rule XXII, however, known as the cloture rule, enables Senators to end a filibuster on any debatable matter the Senate is considering. Sixteen Senators initiate this process by presenting a motion to end the debate. In most circumstances, the Senate does not vote on this cloture motion until the second day of session after the motion is made. Then, it requires the votes of at least three-fifths of all Senators (normally 60 votes) to invoke cloture. (Invoking cloture on a proposal to amend the Senate’s standing rules requires the support of two-thirds of the Senators present and voting, whereas cloture on nominations requires a numerical majority.)

Meet the Trump Cabinet

Source: Government Executive, 2016

Few presidential transitions have been as fraught with uncertainty as the one associated with the incoming Trump Administration. While candidate Donald Trump pledged to repeal the Affordable Care Act, deport millions of undocumented immigrants, build a wall across the Southwest border with Mexico, renegotiate trade deals and redefine international partnerships, it’s not at all clear what President Trump may actually do once he’s in office. To understand how the man who promised to “fire stupid people” and shake up Washington might actually govern, its useful to consider the men and women he has tapped for his Cabinet. While the Senate still must confirm Trump’s picks, they offer insight into how he may manage the federal bureaucracy…”

2016 Plum Book Now Available

Source: U.S. Government Publishing Office (GPO), December 1, 2016

From the press release:
GPO Releases United States Policy and Supporting Positions
The U.S. Government Publishing Office (GPO) has made the 2016 United States Policy and Supporting Positions, or the “The Plum Book”, available on govinfo and as a mobile web app (no download required). Previous editions of the Plum Book, back to 1996, are also available on govinfo.
Plum Book for 2016
Browse all editions of the Plum Book, 1996-2012
Plum Book mobile web app

About the Plum Book
Published by the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs and House Committee on Government Reform alternately after each Presidential election, the Plum Book lists over 9,000 Federal civil service leadership and support positions in the legislative and executive branches of the Federal Government that may be subject to noncompetitive appointment, nationwide. The duties of many such positions may involve advocacy of Administration policies and programs and the incumbents usually have a close and confidential working relationship with the agency or other key officials.

The list originated in 1952 during the Eisenhower administration. For twenty-two years prior, the Democrats controlled the Federal Government. When President Eisenhower took office, the Republican Party requested a list of government positions that President Eisenhower could fill. The next edition of the Plum Book appeared in 1960 and has since been published every four years, just after the Presidential election.

It’s Complicated: Americans’ Relationship with the Federal Government Goes Beyond Distrust

Source: Carroll Doherty, Capitol Ideas, Vol. 59 no. 2, March/April 2016
(scroll down)

Ask some Americans about the federal government and they bluntly describe its flaws and failings. Ask them about what the government should do, and they tell a very different story. Carroll Doherty explains the results of a recent Pew Research Center national survey on public distrust of government.
Beyond Distrust: How Americans View Their Government
Source: Pew Research Center, November 23, 2015
Broad criticism, but positive performance ratings in many areas


Source: U.S. Government Publishing Office, 2016

From the Q&A:
What is govinfo and how do I access it?

govinfo is GPO’s beta website that will eventually replace the FDsys website. The availability of this new website has no impact on the content, metadata, preservation repository, application of digital signatures, or any other back end processing of the content. This means all content available through this site is the same content you would get through the FDsys website. Simply put, govinfo is the new front door to accessing the same content and it is available at

Is everything that is available on FDsys available on govinfo?

Right now, all content available on FDsys is available on govinfo by conducting searches and clicking the format links in the search results. You can get to any pdf, xml, text or any other content file that is available on FDsys.

However, not all browse pages or detail pages have been built yet for every collection. For a list of all collections and publications and how they are currently available, refer to What’s Available below.

What are the differences between FDsys and govinfo?

govinfo is the new front door to accessing the same official, preserved content that GPO has made available through FDsys for the last seven years. The govinfo website will eventually replace the FDsys website, but the new website does not have any impact on GPO’s policies, practices, and procedures regarding the long-term digital preservation or authentication of content.

govinfo is a redesign of the FDsys public website, with a focus on implementing feedback from users and improving overall search and access to FDsys content. The redesigned, mobile-friendly website incorporates state-of-the-art innovative technologies and includes several new features for an overall enhanced user experience.

The key new features include:
– a new modern look and feel,
– the capability to link related content,
– two new ways to browse content: alphabetically and by category,
– a new open-source search engine,
– enhancements to the search filters, and
– more options for sharing pages and content on social media.

To learn more about the new features and enhancements govinfo has to offer, refer to Release Notes – govinfo Beta Launch….

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