Data Priorities in COVID-19 Response

The Honorable Nancy Pelosi
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515
The Honorable Mitch McConnell
Majority Leader
U.S. Senate
Washington, DC 20515
The Honorable Chuck Schumer
Minority Leader
U.S. Senate
Washington, DC 20510
The Honorable Steny Hoyer
Majority Leader
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20510
The Honorable Kevin McCarthy
Minority Leader
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Leaders:

The 21 undersigned organizations respectfully request that Congress prioritize the need for valid, reliable data about the challenges facing our country in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic. By supporting a trusted and robust data infrastructure, we will better understand the impacts of the pandemic and policy interventions, and hopefully, be able to better address current and future challenges using evidence-based approaches.

Specifically, the coronavirus pandemic necessitates further action on the unanimous recommendations from the 2017 bipartisan U.S. Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking. Doing so will help ensure elected leaders have critical information to understand the impacts of the virus long-term on our economy and population, as well as to study and learn from the policies being implemented today to mitigate the pandemic’s effects.

The following suggestions are intended to provide rapid prioritization of data to support decision-makers, many of which align with or are complementary to the Evidence Commission’s recommendations. The Data Coalition previously sent an open letter to Congress, on March 23rd, which elaborated on some of these ideas with additional recommendations for specific approaches.

1) Enable Improved Privacy-Protected Data Sharing for Research. Congress should rapidly act to begin establishing a National Secure Data Service, enabling improved data sharing, linkage, and analysis within a privacy-protective framework. As designed by the Evidence Commission, the Data Service should be designated as a federal statistical agency and use the privacy framework reauthorized by Congress as part of the Confidential Information Protection and Statistical Efficiency Act of 2018 (Title III of P.L. 115-435).

In addition, Congress should explore options to rapidly enable access to certain data already collected by the government to understand the economic impacts on households, including income and earnings data. Two rapid strategies to better use existing data could include enabling research access to the National Directory of New Hires or allowing for access to tax records, as proposed in the Measuring Real Income Growth Act of 2019.

Congress should also encourage the White House Office of Management and Budget to quickly deploy the legal authorities for privacy-protected data sharing provided in Section 303 of the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act of 2018 (P.L.115-435).

2) Prioritize Funding for Critical Needs in the Evidence Ecosystem. Congress should appropriate supplemental funding to support implementation of the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act of 2018 (P.L. 115-435) and related purposes. These resources should be targeted to support agencies in rapidly building the capacity and infrastructure for statistical activities, data governance, and program evaluation and be flexible enough to support federal statistical agencies in unique challenges associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Additional resources can also support specific health-related efforts to understand the incidence rates of COVID-19 as well as ensure agencies like the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have the capability to collect high-quality data for analyses in the current pandemic. For example, NCHS should rapidly enhance its Vital Statistics Reporting System to ensure COVID-19 information is captured adequately, and report information in near real-time. NCHS and the CDC could publicly issue this real-time reporting to inform the American public while protecting privacy and maintaining public trust in the information.

3) Promote Transparency for Supplemental COVID-19 Spending. Congress has already taken some meaningful steps to ensure oversight, transparency, and accountability of supplemental appropriations. These oversight mechanisms should take advantage of the groundwork laid by the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act (DATA Act, P.L. 113-101) and the recently-enacted Grant Reporting Efficiency and Agreement Transparency Act (GREAT Act, P.L. 116-103). These laws support the implementation of certain data standards for government spending, making the information more open and accurate. We encourage Congress to continue to incorporate strong data transparency and accountability provisions in future supplemental appropriations bills.

Thank you for your consideration of these critical data priorities as our country responds to the coronavirus pandemic. We recognize the gravity of the situation before us, which is why we need good data as a priority at every stage of our decision-making process.

For more information, please contact the Data Coalition’s policy manager, Corinna Turbes (


American Anthropological Association

American Evaluation Association

American Sociological Association

American Statistical Association

Association for Psychological Science

Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management (APPAM

Association of Population Centers

Association of Public Data Users

Consortium of Social Science Associations

Council of Professional Associations on Federal Statistics

Crime & Justice Research Alliance

Data Coalition Data

Foundation Denodo

Technologies Elder

Research, Inc.

Grant Thornton Public Sector LLC


Knowledge Alliance

Population Association of America

Results For America

Society for Research in Child Development

Download a copy of the Data Priorities in COVID-19 Letter