Government Relations Update

COSSA Annual Meeting Highlights Breadth of Federal Investments in Behavioral Research

This Consortium of Social Science Associations meeting featured presentations by federal agency leaders and congressional and Administration policymakers.

By Karen Studwell

The Annual Meeting of the Consortium of Social Science Associations (COSSA), held on November 2 in Washington DC, featured presentations from leaders of federal agencies that support social and behavioral science as well as representatives of Congress and the new administration engaged in science policy decision-making. APA is a governing member of COSSA, which advocates for more than 100 professional societies, universities, and research centers.

Robert Groves, Director of the United States Census Bureau, opened the meeting with an update on plans for the 2010 Census. Highlighting some of the new efforts to reach out to the growing Hispanic population, the Census will, for the first time, include a bilingual form and is working with Univision on a telenovella and ad campaign to explain how to complete the census form. APA President James Bray asked if the Census would be collecting information on family structure and relationships, as had been recently reported, and Grove explained that the Census asks solely about the relationships of household occupants to the head of household, though not among others in the household. The response rate in 2000 was 67 percent, and Grove added that each one percent decline in the response rate costs $80-90 million dollars for follow-up efforts to knock on doors and collect information.

Groves was followed by Raphael Bostic, the Assistant Secretary of the Office of Policy Development and Research at the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Though HUD does not traditionally sponsor individual investigators, Bostic outlined HUD’s primary levels of information needs, ranging from shorter term projects, such as surveys, to longer term projects that meet the goals of a broad policy priority. According to Bostic, HUD is interested in hearing from the scientific community about how to make the data that it collects more usable by outside researchers and how to ensure that data are publicly available in a form that promotes its use. HUD is also taking steps to implement some of the recommendations of the 2008 National Academy of Sciences report, Rebuilding the Research Capacity at HUD, which recommended that the agency develop a process to obtain comments from outside investigators on its research agenda.

A panel discussion on Education Research featured the new Director of the Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), John Easton. In his presentation, Easton signaled a shift in emphasis from past IES leadership, noting that he would like to make sure that research designs are aligned with research questions, rather than designs driving the questions, and that relevance is not sacrificed in the pursuit of rigor. In addition, he expressed a desire for researchers to more deliberately study schools and districts as organizations, as having successful programs is not enough if they are not effectively implemented across various types of schools and school systems. He would also like IES to be more deliberate in support of research development and innovation in early education. IES is planning a comprehensive evaluation of the strategies used by the Department of Education in awarding $10 billion in stimulus funding across various funding streams.

Joining Easton on the panel were William Tate, of Washington University, and Lindsay Hunsicker, a senior staff member for Senator Mike Enzi (R-WY), who serves as the Ranking Member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which has jurisdiction over the IES. Hunsicker echoed Easton’s sentiment that randomized controlled trials remain the gold standard, but that there are other designs that can also provide guidance to policy-makers. Lindsay added that IES is just as, if not more, important as the National Science Foundation for education because its research relates to what is actually happening in schools. She added that Congress is looking for researchers to really answer the following questions about their research: “What has the research showed us?” and “What capacity is necessary to translate interventions into other communities?”

Raynard Kington, Deputy Director of the National Institutes of Health, provided an overview of NIH’s support for behavioral and social sciences research. According to Kington, the NIH has spent approximately ten percent of its $10.4 billion in 2009 stimulus money on behavioral and social science research, funding 1600 projects and committing $560 million, which mirrors its traditional funding allocations. He also described the new NIH Basic Behavioral and Social Science Opportunity Network (OppNet - previously reported on in April), which will provide a trans-institute focus on both individual-level behavioral factors, such as motivation and self-control, as well as social processes such as the operations of social networks and behavioral economics. OppNet is slated to receive $10 million in Fiscal Year 2010 from the stimulus funding, $20 million in Fiscal Year 2011, and $30 million for each of the following three years.

The afternoon panel focused on science policy, and included Kei Koizumi of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, Dahlia Sokolov of the House Science and Technology Committee, and Al Teich of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. All three emphasized the important roles played by the behavioral and social sciences in expanding exploration through basic research and in addressing critical national challenges in areas such as health, education and energy. They also encouraged behavioral and social scientists to engage the Administration, Congress and the private sector in more sophisticated discussions regarding evidence-based policy-making and translational research.