The Congressional Analysis Bubble

One of the many terrifying things about our political system is that it’s largely run by underinformed twenty-somethings also known as Congressional staffers (for the record, informed twenty-somethings are perfectly fine). They essentially serve as gatekeepers and most of them, while well-intentioned, are out of their depth about complex issues (by the time they learn about an issue, they’re generally hired as lobbyists. FREEDOM!). Above all, most are not trained in analysis at all. Case in point, healthcare (boldface mine):

Something these many challenges have in common is that they are difficult to solve and all require good evidence to shape rational, effective policy.

Yet, throughout the conference venue, policy leaders seemed to lack the detailed evidence as well as a systematic way of locating and acquiring that relevant evidence from across a national research community.

When Lisa Simpson, president and CEO of AcademyHealth, asked top congressional staffers in the Congressional Plenary how researchers could better feed evidence into the Washington policy process, there were few specific or concrete answers.

I wasn’t surprised. In the past, when I’ve asked other elected officials or legislative staff how they get information, they say it usually comes down to a small network of personal relationships. The process of outreach is more often focused around building political consensus through stakeholder engagement than gathering scientific evidence. This strikes me as a very incomplete and imperfect way to shape policy, particularly considering our public investment in research.

Yet another reason why we can’t have nice things.

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