The Executive Order on Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the federal government (“Equity EO”) launched a whole-of-government effort to incorporate the principle of equity throughout the federal government. Recognizing that the ability to conduct equity assessments—i.e., to understand the impact of federal policies on equity outcomes—and identify and remove barriers to equitable access to government programs is contingent on gathering the necessary data, President Biden ordered the formation of the Equitable Data Working Group (“Working Group”). The President directed the Working Group to study existing federal data collection policies, programs, and infrastructure to identify inadequacies and provide recommendations that lay out a strategy for increasing data available for measuring equity and representing the diversity of the American people.
The Working Group, chaired by Dr. Alondra Nelson (Office of Science and Technology Policy) and Dr. Margo Schwab (Office of Management and Budget), consulted with a range of advocates and experts from civil society, including academic researchers and community leaders who leverage federal data, federal department and agency leads for data, statistics, privacy, and program evaluations, and our colleagues leading related equity efforts (e.g., the White House Gender Policy Council, Justice40, and the White House Initiative on Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islanders (WHIAANHPI)). The Working Group was also informed by agency efforts to implement the President’s policies on scientific integrity and evidence-based policymaking, and related OSTP and OMB guidance.
These stakeholders and officials identified three priority uses for equitable data: generating disaggregated statistical estimates to characterize experiences of historically underserved groups using survey data; increasing non-federal research and community access to disaggregated data for the evidence-building that supports equity efforts; and conducting robust equity assessments of federal programs to identify areas for improvement. The Working Group also pursued a series of case studies to identify what progress could be made using existing program data to answer equity-centered questions in areas such as economic recovery and pandemic or environmental disaster response.
A Vision for Equitable Data
Equitable data are those that allow for rigorous assessment of the extent to which government programs and policies yield consistently fair, just, and impartial treatment of all individuals. Equitable data illuminate opportunities for targeted actions that will result in demonstrably improved outcomes for underserved communities. The following practices will allow us to achieve our equitable data vision:
Make Disaggregated Data the Norm While Protecting Privacy
To ensure that historically underserved populations are empowered by and benefit from federal data, surveys, and equity assessments, the federal data system should support disaggregation, directly or through statistical estimates. However, as the federal government expands its use of disaggregated demographic data, it must be intentional about when data are collected and shared, as well as how data are protected so as not to exacerbate the vulnerability of members of underserved communities, many of whom face the heightened risk of harm if their privacy is not protected.
Catalyze Existing Federal Infrastructure to Leverage Underused Data
Although many federal programs do not report disaggregated data, they may partner with the thirteen federal statistical agencies (agencies whose principal mission is to produce official federal statistics) that have the experience, and many of the tools necessary, to allow departments and agencies to generate disaggregated estimates of program participation in ways that protect against inadvertent disclosure of identifiable information. Policy support for generating the legal and logistical agreements necessary for productive interagency data-sharing partnerships will help to avoid historical roadblocks and address underutilization of existing federal data by facilitating quick and safe access to disaggregated data for equity assessment. Data sharing must be done in a manner that explicitly addresses the tension between the public’s trust in data confidentiality and increasing data access for equity efforts.
Build Capacity for Robust Equity Assessment for Policymaking and Program Implementation
Equitable policymaking and program implementation require an approach to evaluation and data analysis that allows for robust assessment of compounded experiences and overlapping identities. Such analysis is critical because it recognizes how the interconnectedness of identities and experiences (e.g., as a Black woman, or as a transgender immigrant) shape the need for particular federal programs and services and the barriers that may prevent access. Agencies and program offices will need to invest in the statistical, evaluation, and data science expertise necessary to design and conduct robust equity assessments using their administrative data, consistent with the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act of 2018 (“Evidence Act”) and the Equity EO.
Galvanize Diverse Partnerships Across Levels of Government and the Research Community
Durable equitable data infrastructure requires fostering collaborations across all levels of government, as well as with a diverse community of external organizations in order to address specific challenges of mutual priority and interest. It will be necessary to create incentives and pathways for increased representation among research community participants interested in generating equitable data and to engage representatives of the communities that access and participate in federal programs in the design of research collaborations about those programs. Agencies must also look for opportunities to create mutually beneficial uses of the data that they request from grantees, in order to encourage providing good quality data.
Be Accountable to the American Public
Providing tools that allow civil society organizations and communities to use and visualize federal data and chart government’s progress toward equitable outcomes is crucial for strengthening accountability and credibility with the American public. Such tools encourage community participation in government equity efforts, but must meet individuals where they are in terms of data analysis capacity and resources. The government should support platforms and partnerships that enable the public to easily find meaningful data about the well-being of their communities and the services provided to them.
Read the full report here.