House Spending Bill Prohibits Use of Incentives in Some Federal Surveys

By Steve Pierson posted 07-06-2012 15:51


[11/28/12 update: On October 5, Congressman Scott Tipton introduced H.R. 6569, the Survey Savings Accountability Act, which states,
     An executive agency may not provide to an individual compensation that is--
      (a) included with a survey or mailing to encourage the individual to return the survey or mailing; or
      (b) in exchange for a response to a survey or mailing. 

H.R. 6569 is much broader in scope because it would apply to all federal surveys, not just those funded by the E&W bill, and would extend beyond just fiscal year 2013. Neither this bill or the appropriations amendment described below is expected to be enacted in the short term.]

During the House floor consideration of the FY13 Energy and Water (E&W) Appropriations bill, Congressman Scott Tipton (R-CO) successfully amended the bill to prohibit any of the funds in the E&W bill be used "to conduct a survey in which money is included or provided for the benefit of the responder." In a press release titled, "Tipton Aims to End Cash-Laced Federal Surveys," Congressman Tipton states, “Enticing survey responses with cash incentives to prove a societal need for a project is wrong on so many levels. First and foremost, it’s a blatant waste and abuse of taxpayer dollars. Collecting data this way is disingenuous, and a downright sneaky move by this Administration’s cadre of out-of-touch bureaucrats.”'

In response, the American Statistical Association signed onto a June 28 letter to the Office of Management and Budget organized by the Marketing Research Association and the Population Association of America urging the Administration to oppose the adoption of this amendment in the enacted law. The letter states

"the members of our organizations, which include statisticians, marketing researchers, demographers, sociologists, economists, psychologists, and mathematicians, rely on—and in many cases conduct—federally supported and conducted surveys to understand people, industries, and trends and to do applied and analytical research on a wide variety of topics. Our members depend on these surveys to be statistically valid and representative of the populations they query. To achieve a representative sample of survey participants, we know many surveys must provide incentives that attract, retain, and compensate
individuals for their time and effort. Monetary and/or non-monetary incentives are often imperative for motivating response from certain population subgroups, in order to ensure that the target population is well represented in the survey. Further, we understand that these incentives are provided with the full knowledge and consent of the survey’s funding agencies and the Office of Management and Budget.

"Although the Tipton amendment is seemingly motivated by one survey supported by one federal agency, we are concerned that its adoption, and possible inclusion in the final version of the Fiscal Year 2013 Energy and Water Appropriations Act, could severely hinder survey and opinion research across all agencies under the legislation’s rubric and establish a dangerous precedent for all other federally conducted and supported research."
In order to become law, the Tipton provision would have to be agreed to in the conference committee where the House and Senate versions of the E&W bill are reconciled. The Senate version of the bill so far contains no such provision.

The Marketing Research Association issued the following press release on the letter: Coalition of Researchers and Data Users Urge White House Support for Survey Incentives. Signers of the letter included the American Educational Research Association, American Psychological Association, Association of Population Centers, American Sociological Association, American Statistical Association, Association of Academic Survey Research Organizations, Consortium of Social Science Associations, Council of Professional Associations on Federal Statistics, Decision Demographics, Marketing Research Association, and Population Association of America.

The following news article discusses the survey that led to the amendment: Klamath dam survey inspires bill amendment.