September 13, 2016

On the Benefits and Costs of Public Access to Data Used to Support Federal Policy Making

David Zorn

Over the past few decades, the quality of published scientific research has increasingly come into question. Top academic journals and research organizations have realized that empirical research that cannot be replicated has little credibility. The federal government has recognized the need to ensure both the reliability of the scientific underpinnings of its policy decisions and public confidence in that reliability, and it has taken steps to improve the quality and accessibility of information it uses in policymaking.

In a new paper for the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, economists Randall Lutter and David Zorn review current federal policies and procedures intended to ensure that scientific and technical research meets appropriate quality standards, comparing them with similar practices and procedures already in use at nonfederal institutions. Contrary to estimates by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), federal agencies can provide access to data and computer code at a reasonable cost—a cost that is likely exceeded by the benefits of transparency and greater reproducibility.