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Congressional Appropriators Address NCSES Staffing Needs and NCES Autonomy Issues


Besides their role in determining federal budgets, Appropriations Committees also provide guidance through report language that might include spending instructions, directives, expectations, and spending restrictions. In their FY23 committee reports, appropriators included language addressing operations challenges of federal statistical agencies in addition to their data collection priorities.

While not unprecedented, I highlight language related to operations for two agencies to raise awareness of the underlying issues and Congress’ attention to them.

The Senate explanatory statement for the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies (CJS) Appropriations majority has the following on the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES):

The Committee commends NSF for its stewardship of NCSES, including respecting its independence as one of thirteen principal Federal statistical agencies. NCSES provides statistics that inform U.S. research and development infrastructure, U.S. innovation and competitiveness, and STEM workforce. The Committee supports the request and staffing increases to fulfill the NCSES’s leadership of government-wide evidence building activities and initiatives required of the Federal statistical agencies under the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act of 2018 (Public Law 115–435). The Committee encourages NSF to address NCSES staffing to allow the Center to build its in-house capacity and expertise to perform its work nimbly, efficiently, and in a cost-efficient manner. 

The CJS appropriations subcommittee is chaired by Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH). The House report language also addressed NCSES staffing, writing, “Noting the already low ratio of personnel to budget at NCSES relative to other Federal statistical agencies, the Committee supports the request to add personnel, which may include statisticians, economists, research scientists, and other statistical and support staff as needed, to ensure adequate staffing for this research.” The House CJS appropriations subcommittee is chaired by Representative Matt Cartwright (D-PA). Representative Robert Aderholt (R-AL) is the ranking member of the subcommittee. 

Former NCSES Director Lynda Carlson, former NCSES Deputy Director Jeri Mulrow, and CNSTAT Chair Robert Groves spoke passionately about how NSF staffing constraints hamstring NCSES in their 2021 Q&A for Amstat News. The following figures illustrate how NCSES staffing constraints makes the agency dependent on contractors and a high budget-to-ratio.

For the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) and its umbrella organization, the Institute of Education Sciences (IES), the explanatory statement for the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill references this spring’s report from the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) Committee on National Statistics (CNSTAT): A Vision and Roadmap for Education Statistics:

The Committee is aware IES sought expert assistance in requesting NASEM to ‘‘recommend a portfolio of activities and products for NCES, review developments in the acquisition and use of data, consider current and future priorities, and suggest desirable changes’’, which resulted in the publication of the ‘‘A Vision and Roadmap for Education Statistics’’.  The Committee believes the Secretary, Commissioner and Director of IES should take swift action to support NCES as an independent Federal statistical agency pursuant to recommendations of the NASEM report.”

The CNSTAT report included this recommendation: “The secretary of education, director of the Institute of Education Sciences, and NCES commissioner should collaborate to ensure that NCES is independent in developing, producing, and disseminating statistics.” The report has a paragraph on how the 2002 legislation establishing IES “nibbled away at NCES’s independence.” Former Commissioners James Woodworth and Jack Buckley, along with AERA Executive Director Felice Levine, discuss NCES autonomy challenges in their 2022 Q&A. Daniel Elchert and I also document it in this 2020 Amstat News article.

Appropriations Committee have of course addressed operations issues of the federal statistical agencies. For example, in their FY21 spending bills, they address NCES staffing issues, BJS publication delays, and the relocation of the Economic Research Service.

To see other report language related to the federal statistical agencies, along with the FY23 funding levels from each chamber, see this blog entry,  FY23 Statistical Agency Budget Developments

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