Washington, we can do this

Washington, we can do this
© Hill file photo

By now, everyone has heard of the story of baseball’s Oakland Athletics and their 2002 season, immortalized by Michael Lewis in the book (and the movie) Moneyball. Recognizing his team’s limitations and scarce resources, Oakland general manager Billy Beane pioneered the use of performance data, rather than unscientific scouting reports, to drive his player draft selections. It is a compelling story, and the result was Oakland’s record-setting American League winning streak.

But before Beane and the A’s achieved success with what came to be known as Moneyball, there were losing streaks, doubters and cynics.

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As we start the new year, Washington is in much the same position, facing poor approval ratings, a dismal performance record and an American public that is understandably doubtful that hyperpartisan Washington can get anything done. Given all the dysfunction, it’s easy to assume nothing productive will ever come out of a Washington that’s this broken. But while it would be easy to assume that, it would also be wrong.

What if we became more data-driven in our pursuit of better outcomes, and based more of our policy choices and spending decisions on real evidence of effectiveness and efficiency? We could play our own brand of Moneyball, and help Washington turn the tide on behalf of American families.

We’re not naive about the historic challenges facing Congress, nor about the gridlock we’ve seen too much of in recent years. However, we are optimistic about the opportunities for government to adopt a Moneyball approach, and how that could catalyze progress on the many policy challenges we confront.

Moneyball doesn’t require Washington to reach a consensus on every big issue. But it does require that we introduce more objective evidence and data analysis into the policymaking process and budget decisions, even as we continue to debate what those policies and dollar allocations should be. Our choices can and should be more informed by what will have the most impact, and what will produce the best results for taxpayers and citizens.

Prioritizing and investing in what works can also heal the partisan divide. Moneyball gives us a chance to modify or eliminate unnecessary programs and focus instead on effective, efficient government. It also provides an opportunity to prove that government, regardless of its size, can help improve outcomes for all Americans.

If we have any hope of bridging the gap between big ideas and implementation, of overcoming the inertia and bias towards inaction, we should adopt an evidence-based agenda. This cannot be the project of a passionate few. It must be a cause taken up and championed in Congress and across the country.

We ask our fellow members of Congress to join us in support of using evidence and data to make better, more-informed decisions. On your committees and in your own legislation, push for the programs you authorize and fund to be rigorously evaluated — for the sake of the taxpayers and everyone who might benefit from these programs. Help us figure out if what we’re doing is working.

To the president, presidential candidates and every agency of the federal government, build on the work you’re already doing. Turn evidence-based pilot programs into major initiatives. Show us that these efforts can be part of a more effective delivery of services to our citizens.

Cities, states, foundations, nonprofits and the private sector should continue to incubate their innovative programs and demonstrate that data and evidence can — and do — change outcomes and lift the lives of people all across America. Test new approaches, fine tune them, and then bring them to scale.

Our fellow citizens have a role to play as well. Demand accountability. Insist that we evaluate what’s working and what isn’t, and demand that resources be directed to effective programs and redirected from those that are unnecessary, outdated or duplicative. 

It’s time for those of us who serve in Washington to play Moneyball. 

Ayotte is New Hampshire’s junior senator, serving since 2011. She sits on the Armed Services; the
Budget; the Commerce, Science and Transportation; the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs; and the Small Business and Entrepreneurship committees. Warner is Virginia’s senior senator, serving since 2009. He sits on the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs; the Budget; the Finance; the Intelligence; and the Rules and Administration committees. They are contributing authors to a new book titled Moneyball for Government.