Home / Government / Articles / How USAFacts created the Data Skills for Congress program

Data is central to the legislative process. It allows congressional offices to track trends, assess the results of prior legislation, and craft effective public policy. However, Congress often faces challenges in locating and working with metrics to help inform their decisions. With enhanced data literacy, Congress can craft legislation more effectively, ensuring that relevant and useful data becomes more accessible to lawmakers and the American public alike.

To make this possible, USAFacts and UC Berkeley's Goldman School of Public Policy teamed up to create a novel continuing education program for congressional staff.  The Data Skills for Congress program, launched in 2023, equips member and professional staff with skills to use data in policy-making and constituent services, and write legislation to improve public data. Data Skills for Congress is the first program of its kind approved by the House and Senate Ethics Committees.

This free program isn’t just an education in data literacy in order to shape policies that ensure accurate, usable data flows within government. It's a catalyst for congressional modernization and a rallying cry for greater data use across Congress.

A pie chart with pieces depicted as city blocks, wind farms, forests, and more. This is illustrative and doesn't contain data.

Why does a more data-driven Congress matter?

Congressional decision-making centered on data has many benefits, including:

  1. Data-driven policies help lawmakers make better decisions based on evidence, not assumptions or biases.
  2. By evaluating existing policies and proposing evidence-based solutions, Congress can create initiatives that address real challenges and deliver better outcomes.
  3. With clear data sources, lawmakers can track spending, assess program effectiveness, and ensure accountability to the American people.
  4. Data-driven insights enable Congress to monitor programs, identify inefficiencies, and strengthen performance analysis.
  5. Public trust in Congress grows when policies are backed by accurate and transparent data, fostering engagement and participation in the democratic process.

The fully remote course worked around the busy schedules of congressional staff and featured leading experts in government data systems, data visualization, and data policy. The format included both asynchronous and live lectures, small group discussions, and in-class activities to show students how to use data to unlock valuable insights for government and transform data into persuasive stories.

Data Skills for Congress covers a range of data literacy and policy subjects divided into five units: becoming fluent in federal open data policy; congressional oversight and data use; finding and visualizing data; data sharing across different jurisdictions, complexities, and tools; and understanding how communities use state and local data.

Our first cohort

The program’s initial offering exceeded enrollment goals by 66% (a target of 25, but enrolling 42), maintaining an 84% student retention rate over its five months. Eighty-seven percent of participants reported they would recommend the program to their peers. In the words of one satisfied participant, “I learned a lot and I think these are basic skills all congressional staff should have.”

UC Berkeley proved to be the ideal setting for this innovative program. The university's Goldman School of Public Policy was named the nation’s #1 policy analysis program for the second consecutive year, according to 2023 US News & World Report rankings.

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