Look What Lame-Duck Republicans Did!

There is a good rule in politics and policy making:  never give government powers you would not trust in the hands of your worst adversary. 

Apparently, the Republican House majority of the last Congress were not too worried about that. Right before Christmas they passed a bill - a bad bill - that (and I do not say this lightly) has a distinct Orwellian smell to it. 

A blog reader updated me on FEPA, the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policy Making Act, which I wrote about back in November 2017. I lost track of it after that, which is unfortunate; the bill has tangible repercussions for our state's very sovereignty. 

FEPA, also known as HR4174 of the 115th Congress, has passed both the House and the Senate and is currently on President Trump's desk. If he does not veto it by Jnuary 12 - and he needs to veto it - the bill becomes law without his signature. The only thing that can convince him to veto it is a major groundswell of citizen outrage. 

This is, as I said, a bad bill. Breitbart reports:
The Senate has passed a bill – with only a voice vote and no debate – during the Christmas holiday season that parent activists say will essentially create a “de facto national database." The Senate’s approval of the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act (FEPA), H.R. 4174, on December 21, will result in a never-before-seen assault on Americans’ privacy, say the activists.
Karen Effrem, a champion of educational freedom, elaborates over at Townhall.com:
Lame-duck congressional sessions almost always endanger freedom, and sadly, this one was no exception. In a “lamer” than usual lame-duck move at the end of last week, the Senate passed H.R. 4174, the Foundations for Evidence-based Policymaking Act (FEPA). 
Before we continue to listen to Effrem, let me just point out that there was another bill back in 2006, I believe, with the same acronym but on an entirely different subject. Don't get them confused. Back to Effrem:
This move came without a hearing and with only a voice vote after no debate. Although the bill is defended as a way to use data to evaluate the effectiveness of government programs, it will result in an unprecedented assault on the privacy of American citizens. Very similar to outgoing Speaker Paul Ryan’s handling of the final passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act, this pre-Christmas Grinch-like maneuver -- stealing the privacy of ordinary citizens -- was done in the dark of night after the election and during holiday celebrations. Presumably the goal was to evade the opposition of grassroots groups, especially parent and education freedom organizations, which had been strongly opposing this bill since its initial proposal.
And, Effrem explains, Congress had a good reason to want to get this done quietly:
Last year, Ryan rammed his own FEPA bill through the House committee two days after introduction and then passed it off the floor with no real debate about the privacy implications. Citizen outrage forced the Senate to hold the bill in committee for thirteen months until after the election, when a slightly amended version was brought from committee and passed on December 19th with no hearing, no debate, and no recorded vote. The House then passed the amended version of the Senate bill, again after no debate, by a final vote of 356-17 -- with only seventeen Republicans having the wisdom and courage to vote against it. 
She also lists some chilling details about FEPA. Put down your coffee before you read them:
While FEPA itself doesn’t expressly establish a formal data system with a central repository, the bill’s mandates regarding linking and sharing data among multiple federal agencies and thousands of bureaucrats will create essentially the same result: a de facto national database. The federal government is demonstrably incompetent at data security; moreover, it routinely ignores the overwhelming data it already has showing the ineffectiveness of many (most) federal programs. There is no reason to believe an even more enormous trove of data can be secured, or that it will actually change government behavior in any meaningful way. Most importantly, collecting and holding massive amounts of data about an individual has an intimidating effect on the individual—even if the data is never used. This fundamentally changes the relationship between the individual and government. Citizen direction of government cannot happen when government sits in a position of intimidation of the individual.

It is striking how Congress is completely dysfunctional when it comes to passing legislation that would fulfill their campaign promises to Republican voters, yet pulls it together to pass legislation which does the opposite. Although they can’t agree on legislation to cut taxes, end ObamaCare, or stop illegal immigration, there appears to be agreement on passing HR4174, which would increase non-consensual surveillance of free-born American citizens and the probability of a national database. Instead of dismantling the Administrative State, this bill would allow bureaucrats to propose to collect any data on any citizen on any topic they want, to answer their desired policy questions. The vote could come as early as this coming Wednesday, and many Republican members of Congress have been misled to believe HR4174 would allow better transparency in how federal agencies operate.  They owe it to their constituents to be informed on the details of this legislation before the vote.
But wait - there is more! As if this was not bad enough, the bill has even broader implications than that. It is, in fact, the very beginning of the end of the decentralized American welfare state. The following is my analysis of the bill, which I published on November 26, 2017. Hold on to your hat. Or privacy.


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We start off with a Congressional bill that could have major implications for the current and, especially, future independence of Wyoming as a state. The bill in question, HR 4174, could make it much more difficult for us to carry out necessary reforms to Medicaid, K-12 education and other federally sponsored programs. 

The proof is in the pudding. Superficially, HR 4174 looks like a bureaucratic bill that has few if any policy implications. However, a closer look reveals that HR 4174 is much more than that. It actually lays the cornerstones for the statistical infrastructure that the federal government would need if it wanted to create big, new entitlement programs. 

Put bluntly: this bill could provide the operational infrastructure for federal funds for single-payer health care, general income security (we know it as "paid family leave") and universal child care. These programs, which complete the edifice known as the egalitarian welfare state, would all be mandatory for taxpayers to pay for, and for all families to participate in. For that purpose, government needs much more data on our earnings and our families.

It would be wise for Wyoming legislators, and gubernatorial candidates, to pay close attention to this bill. Based on the Congressional HR 4174, I have a couple of recommendations for the upcoming legislative session. 

More on that later.

At first glance, HR 4174 seems reasonable, even welcome. It wants to move the federal government closer to "evidence-based policy making", which would improve efficiency and give taxpayers more for their money. Who does not want a more efficient government?

For example, HR 4174 proposes:
The Director [of the Office of Management and Budget] shall consolidate the plans submitted under section 312 in a unified evidence-building plan. The Director shall notify agency heads of potentially overlapping or unnecessarily duplicative data acquisition plans and facilitate interagency evidence gathering and sharing. The head of an agency may incorporate the results of any interagency coordination by updating the plan required under section 312. The Director shall incorporate any such agency update in the unified evidence-building plan.
This sounds good, and if this were the sole purpose of the bill, there would not be anything for us here in Wyoming to talk about. In fact, even as we look at the content of HR 4174, its purpose is to lay the groundwork for a major overhaul of the production of statistics by the federal government. 

So far, so good. The problems with this bill show up once we put it in the context of the report, upon which it is based. Now, all of a sudden, HR 4174 takes on a new, and somewhat sinister purpose. It delivers more than just some efficiency-improving reforms to the operation of Uncle Sam's bureaucracy. 

For example, HR 4174 paves the way for a new, federal statistical agency called the National Secure Data Service. The implementation of this new agency, explained on pages 2 and 3 in the report from the Commission on Evidence-Based Policy Making, is carefully laid out in HR 4174. Once up and running, this new agency is going to be the hub of processing and application of all federal statistical databases. 

Even if we disregard the broader implications of HR 4174, we have already stumbled upon a significant problem. The federal government does not need a new statistical clearing house, let alone a new production agency for statistics. The OMB can already serve the function of streamlining, enhancing and improving the efficiency of the production and application of statistics in the current federal government. The Census Bureau has taken on the role of clearing house, as well as producer of many statistical products. The Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Bureau of Economic Analysis also produce large amounts of excellent products. 

All that this new agency does is set the federal government up for another data breach like the hacking of the Office of Personnel Management. With all the extra data that the NSDS is supposed to collect and process, this alone is a reason not to pass HR 4174.

The next reason for saying no to this bill is the very collection of new data. According to the aforementioned commission report, the goal of the reforms initiated by HR 4174 are for the NSDS to:
Review and, where needed, revise laws authorizing Federal data collection and use to ensure that limited access to administrative and survey data is possible to return benefts [sic] to the public through improved programs and policies, but only under strict privacy controls. 


Ensure state-collected quarterly earnings data are available for statistical purposes, including to support the many evidence-building activities for which earnings are an important outcome. 

Make additional state-collected data about Federal programs available for evidence building. Where appropriate, states that administer programs with substantial Federal investment should in return provide the data necessary for evidence building.
The first point, about revision of laws that authorize federal data collection, is entirely unnecessary - unless the goal is to massively expand federal data collection. Why would the federal government want to do that? 

Officially, the reason is to provide more comprehensive data as foundation for government decision-making. However, as someone with a doctorate and close to 20 years post-graduate experience in a quantitative social science, I can safely say that the federal government has, basically, all the data it needs in publicly available databases from the Census Bureau, the BEA, the BLS, the Office of Management and Budget, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Education, as well as independent statistical producers such as the Kaiser Foundation, the National Association of State Budget Officers, and even the Social Security Administration and the Internal Revenue Service.

Sure, there are bits and pieces of data production that could be improved. There are time series products that could be more consistent in production and updated more regularly, but overall, the United States government has pretty much all it needs to be able to operate its entitlement programs - and its administration - with efficiency and purpose. 

So, what is the purpose behind this big, new agency? The story is buried in the two other points in the quote above: "ensure state-collected quarterly earnings data" and "make additional state-collected data about federal programs available". 

Earnings data already exists. The Bureau of Economic Analysis already produces state-level earnings data by quarter, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics offers similar statistical products on a monthly basis. If the goal is to see how federal programs affect income at the state level, then all that is needed is a faster update process for existing statistical products from the BEA and the BLS. All that Congress would have to do is appropriate more money for these two agencies, with the specific purpose of speeding up statistical production. 

In other words, the need for more detailed income data at the state level has little do to with the current operation and reform of existing entitlement programs. The purpose behind expanded income is instead a preamble to the roll-out of new entitlement programs: in order to create a general income security program, based on paid family leave but much bigger in scope, and copied from European welfare states, the federal government will have to have detailed knowledge of household income. This data, which will have to be current in a way that comparable, existing statistical products are not, must be household-based. 

This, in turn, breaks new ground in federal data collection. The only way to collect this data on a basis that is current enough for the operation of a general income security program, is if it is collected frequently - the evidence-based policy making report suggests quarterly - from your employer. In other words, four times a year, your employer will supply a federal statistical agency with your individual income data. The collecting agency could be the new National Secure Data Service, or the IRS, based on requests from the NSDS.

The next reason why this household income database is needed, is the universal child-care program that the federal government will roll out at some point in a not-too-distant future. You will be paying both taxes and individualized fees to have your kid in child care, sponsored and regulated by the federal government but operated by the states. The fees will be tiered based on your income; to be able to place you in the right fee, and make sure that the fee is up to date with your income, government needs to have current access to your earnings. 

It is entirely possible that the same database is necessary for a future single-payer health care system. Even though the deductibles and fees people pay for health care in such systems tend to be fixed, they could easily be based on your income. 

In other words, the need for frequently updated, detailed, income data points squarely at a long-term purpose: the federal government is beginning to create the statistical infrastructure needed for the "missing pieces" of a Swedish, egalitarian welfare state: general income security, universal child care and single-payer health care. 

When the commission report says that the federal government also needs "additional state-collected data" about programs that receive federal funds, they acknowledge that income data is not all they need. For the universal child-care program, they obviously need data on how your child is performing in child care; for further federal "investment" in K-12, they would - at least in theory - need a national database of how our kids do in school; for a single-payer system they would need a national database of all our health records. 

There is much more to be said about this, and I will get back this issue in a few days with my recommendations for our state lawmakers and those aspiring to be our next governor. For now, let me finish up with repeating that HR 4174 in itself does nothing more than the legislative mechanics to create the National Secure Data Service. Whatever comes after that, has - to the best of my knowledge - not yet been turned into legislative bill language. So far, it only exists in the report from the Commission on Evidenced-Based Policy Making

That said, since the first step toward implementing the recommendations from the commission would be to create the NSDS, it is logical to assume that all the other recommendations from the commission report will also show up in bills in Congress, once HR 4174 has been signed by President Trump. 


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If you don't want president Trump to sign this bill, then contact the White House, pronto, el quicko, today.

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