WASHINGTON — Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, a possible 2016 Democratic candidate, spoke Wednesday about data-driven government — and also ended up fielding questions about his potential opponent’s recent e-mail controversy.
O’Malley pioneered data-centric decision-making with CitiStat in Baltimore during his tenure as the city’s mayor, then with StateStat in Maryland while he was governor. Both programs used data to steer policymaking decisions, measuring performance toward specific goals while making government more transparent.
“It’s about doing the things that work, that move us forward,” said O’Malley, who spoke at the Brookings Institution.
But journalists in the audience were more interested in O’Malley’s thoughts on transparency with regards to Hillary Clinton.
The former Secretary of State came under fire recently when it came to light that she had used a personal email routed through a server in her New York home for all her official correspondence.
O’Malley emphasized that he had and would continue to comply with Freedom of Information Act requests regarding emails, but did not comment on Clinton’s decision to use a personal email, saying that he had not watched her statement about the issue Tuesday.
“I was working,” O’Malley said to laughs when an audience member asked why he had not watched.
O’Malley moved the conversation the back to the effectiveness of setting concrete goals and then gathering data to refine and achieve them.
In data-driven models, government offices and agencies are required to set goals and collect data around them, adjusting methods and desired outcomes according to the information. O’Malley highlighted programs in education and criminal justice that worked well in Maryland.
A fellow at the Urban Institute who has extensively researched data-driven policymaking, Harry Hatry is supportive of the idea, but cautioned against assuming that “the data are what’s needed and relevant and accurate.”
Hatry said it is important to focus on qualitative results such as focus groups and storytelling as well. He also cautioned against setting goals that are so high-stakes that they can incentivize misrepresentation or misuse of data.
O’Malley, who said he is “seriously considering” a 2016 presidential run, promoted taking transparency and data-based decision making to the federal level.
“I believe that if we want to continue to heal our democracy, we’re going to have to make our government work,” O’Malley said. “We’re going to have to do a better job of making our government perform for the money we put in.”