We’ve been writing at length about the dangers of the new Paul Ryan/Patty Murray bill, the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act (FEPA), which requires federal agencies to share and analyze Americans’ personal data in the name of “evidence-building.” The theory is that all this new evidence will enable Congress to cut programs that aren’t working and save taxpayers boatloads of money.
As luck would have it, such a demonstrably ineffective program is now up for review in Congress – giving Speaker Ryan, Senator Murray, and their comrades-in-arms a golden opportunity to prove that more “evidence” will lead to better policy.
The program in question is the Bush-initiated and Obamacare-expanded Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) program. Given that the federal government destroyed millions of families, especially in minority communities, through its boneheaded welfare policies, the feds enacted MIECHV to try to clean up the mess. MIECHV bureaucrats go into citizens’ homes to “identify and provide comprehensive services to improve outcomes for families who reside in at-risk communities” –defined broadly, even to include families with members who serve or have served in the Armed Forces. The families of these brave men and women are now targeted for “help” coming from that gold standard of helpers, the federal government.
The supposed goal of this and other home-visiting programs is to improve school readiness and health outcomes and reduce pathologies such as child abuse – areas that generally aren’t a problem in intact families. The government is here to make everything better.
As admitted by the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine, the “challenges” of replacing stable parents with government bureaucrats in the home include lack of family engagement in the enterprise, cultural and other differences of opinion about child-rearing, and poor qualifications and ineffectiveness of the deputized bureaucrats. Constitutionalists would add to that, the creeping totalitarianism of having federal functionaries invade homes to make sure everyone is behaving according to government preferences.
And of course, the federal busybodies who surveil innocent citizens’ homes are required not only to instruct parents in government-approved child-rearing techniques, but also to collect reams of data about these families and their shortcomings. Under FEPA, that data would then be available to other federal agencies and to outside researchers for analysis.
But significantly, the data from various home-visiting programs has already been analyzed within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). And guess what? These programs overwhelmingly fail to achieve their stated goals. Dr. Karen Effrem consulted HHS’s HomVee website and studied the statistics about “primary” and “secondary” effects of home-visiting programs. She found that the programs show “no effect” over 80% of the time (versus favorable or ambiguous effects under 20% of the time).
This is what we’re spending hundreds of millions of dollars for? It looks like MIECHV and other home-visiting programs, like so many other federal efforts, are valuable mainly for two things: 1) compiling data on American citizens and families that may be useful for future control; and 2) providing government employment.
Despite the dearth of evidence showing home-visiting effectiveness, the House of Representatives passed a bill that would renew the program through fiscal year 2022. Politico reported that many House Democrats opposed that bill because it put at least modest limits on pouring money down the home-visiting rathole. They prefer the Senate version, which more reliably keeps the spigots flowing. The Senate Finance Committee has expressed some support for extending the Democrats’ preferred program for two years, but the big-spending bureaucracy and the cronies who benefit from it are holding out for five. They hope they can get what they want in an end-of-year “extenders package.”
So here we have a great test case for Ryan and Murray’s claim that, armed with FEPA, they’ll defund programs that evidence proves ineffective. FEPA opponents have expressed skepticism that Congress has the spine to defund anything, evidence-based or not, and that erecting a new data structure to compile that evidence is not only invasive but an enormous waste of time (case in point: the constantly increased funding for Head Start despite hundreds of studies showing that program’s uselessness).
If MIECHV survives the congressional chopping block despite its poor performance, Ryan and Murray can stop preaching about how they need more and more data to weed out bad programs. The goal of FEPA will be revealed, instead, as expanding access to an enormous pool of data for whatever purposes can be concocted by bureaucrats and their allied outside interests. This is not a goal the Founders would have embraced. Nor will the American people.
Emmett McGroarty and Jane Robbins are senior fellows at American Principles Project.