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ASA at 175 – This Week in Advocacy

By Ronald Wasserstein posted 03-11-2014 08:44


Serving as an advocate for the sound practice of statistics is one of the American Statistical Association’s core functions.  Two areas in which the ASA is actively addressing this week illustrate this broad and important role.

Last week we heard the House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform mark up a bill to make the American Community Survey (ACS) voluntary. As of late yesterday afternoon, the mark up has been postponed – if not cancelled – but the episode  demonstrates the need for vigilance.   The ACS is a fundamental source of statistical information for many decisions made by the government.  The impact on the quality of this information has been studied in detail.  In fact, the Census Bureau conducted a test several years ago to determine what the effect would be on the response rate of a voluntary versus mandatory ACS.  A Congressional Research Service report provides details of this research, and a history of the ACS. 

What is the ASA’s role in a matter like this one? Working in conjunction with other professional societies, we meet with Congressional staff to explain the statistical issues that will result from the proposed course of action. ASA Director of Science Policy Steve Pierson is our only staff member assigned to such duties, so collaboration with other groups is essential.  Pierson has developed an overview of the ACS to distribute to Congressional staff and other interested parties, and he and others make the rounds on Capitol Hill, meeting with the staff, attending hearings, and offering testimony when appropriate.

Also on the legislative agenda this week is the FIRST Act (The Frontiers in Innovation, Research, Science and Technology Act), which is proposed as a reauthorization to the America COMPETES Act of 2007 and 2010.  The ASA is interested in the FIRST Act because it contains the funding provisions for the National Science Foundation.  One of the major concerns about this bill is a 40% cut to the Social, Behavioral,  and Economic Sciences Directorate.  This directorate funds important research across the board but two of the more important components are the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics and the Methodology, Measurement, and Statistics Program. The ASA joins other scientific organizations in emphasizing the importance of research, so we will be involved in educational efforts here as well.

These two activities in the coming week are illustrative of the type of work the ASA does to promote the practice and profession of statistics at the government level.   For more detailed information about our advocacy efforts, see Steve Pierson’s blog or the ASA’s Science Policy website. Want to get involved? Contact Steve Pierson ( 

In 2014, the American Statistical Association is celebrating its 175th anniversary.  Over the course of this year, this blog will highlight aspects of that celebration, and look broadly at the ASA and its activities.  Please contact ASA Executive Director Ron Wasserstein ( if you would like to post an entry to this blog.