Issue 06 (March 17)


A Word from COSSA…

Dear Friends:

Our thoughts are with everyone feeling the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic. As the world adjusts to a new—and hopefully temporary—way of life, lawmakers in Washington are scrambling to keep the economic and public health consequences from spiraling out of control. Consistent with any major crisis, the next several weeks, if not months, will see nearly all other policymaking grind to a halt as resources (time, personnel, and money) are diverted appropriately to tackling the challenge before us.

This leaves many unknowns about the fate of science funding and policymaking for the foreseeable future. In response, COSSA has decided to transition its Social Science Advocacy Day, originally designed as a “fly-in” for advocates to meet with lawmakers on Capitol Hill, into a “phone-in.” In addition, we elected to delay the Advocacy Day phone-in by one month to April 27-28, 2020. If you are registered for Social Science Advocacy Day and have not been contacted by the COSSA team about these changes, please contact me.

We have outlined below some of the latest developments related to funding and policy important to the social and behavioral science community in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Additional Congressional, Federal Agency, and community updates are also provided.

Finally, we recognize that in these trying times, the activities of Washington might be the farthest from your mind. We will continue to work on behalf of the social science research community during this uncertain time and report on new developments. But more importantly, we hope you will take care of yourself, your family, and your community.

Be well,

Wendy Naus
COSSA Executive Director


Congressional leaders have been busy working to address the COVID-19 outbreak. On March 6, the President signed into law an $8.3 billion emergency spending bill to address the pandemic. The funding measure included support for state and local health agencies, vaccine and treatment development, and loans for affected small business. More emergency funding and policy measures are expected from Congress.

The outlook for Congressional productivity, particularly on annual appropriations, is uncertain. On March 12, the House and Senate Sergeant at Arms directed the Capitol, as well as the House and Senate Office Buildings to be closed to the public and many Congressional offices have moved to working remotely.

It is too early to tell how the pandemic will affect science funding next year, let alone federal research support this year (check out the next section on how federal agencies are responding to the coronavirus). The COVID-19 crisis coupled with the upcoming Presidential election all but guarantees that fiscal year 2021 will begin on October 1 under a cloud of uncertainty and very likely a continuing resolution.

Federal Agencies

Federal research agencies such as the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have released a series of informational documents and Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about the COVID-19 pandemic and how it affects daily research functions at those agencies.

The NIH FAQ includes links to the most recent information available about how the epidemic will affect practices for existing research awards, affect future awards, how NIH can assist funded researchers with sunk costs for travel or conference fees, and how to best impose isolation in larger research institutions.

The NSF FAQ offers similar information about changes to research practices, but also includes several pieces of information about coronavirus research funding opportunities. NSF has released a Dear Colleague Letter providing guidance on submitting research proposals seeking to treat or prevent the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus. The NSF Dear Colleague Letter states that research proposals related to COVID-19 may be submitted through existing funding opportunities at NSF, but also invites submissions through the Rapid Response Research (RAPID) funding mechanism for quick-response and time-sensitive events. The NSF FAQ offers additional information about the logistics and special considerations of these coronavirus research proposals. The Dear Colleague Letter and more information about RAPID is available on the NSF website.

Useful Resources

General COVID-19 Resources:

University/Educator Resources:

Federal Agency Resources:

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COSSA Submits Testimony in Support of Social Science at NSF, Census, NIJ and BJS

Each year, COSSA submits outside witness testimony to the Congressional Appropriations subcommittees responsible for funding federal agencies important to the social sciences. Earlier this month, COSSA submitted testimony to the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies calling for robust funding for the National Science Foundation (NSF), National Institute of Justice (NIJ), Bureau of Justice Statistics, and Census Bureau in fiscal year (FY) 2021. All of COSSA’s FY 2021 testimony will be posted on the COSSA website.

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Work on FY 2021 Appropriations Slows as Congress Works to Address Coronavirus Outbreak

While it is expected that Congress will soon put its regular appropriations work on hold as work shifts to address the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, committees have begun hearing testimony from Trump Administration officials on federal agencies’ budget proposals for fiscal year 2021. White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) Director Kelvin Droegemeier testified in front of the House Science Committee on the Administration’s budget for research and development (see previous coverage), NIH leadership testified before the House Appropriations Committee (see related article), and Department of Commerce leadership testified before the House and Senate Appropriations Committees. No appropriations bills have been released or considered by the Committees. As the process moves forward—if it moves forward—COSSA will produce analyses of the proposals important to the social and behavioral sciences.

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House Holds Hearing on NIH Budget for FY 2021

On March 4, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies (LHHS) held a hearing on the budget for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for fiscal year (FY) 2021. Witnesses included NIH Director Francis Collins; National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) Director Diana Bianchi; National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) Director Anthony Fauci; National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) Director Gary Gibbons; National Cancer Institute (NCI) Director Ned Sharpless; and National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) Director Nora Volkow.

Subcommittee Chair Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Ranking Member Tom Cole (R-OK), and full Appropriations Committee Chair Nita Lowey (D-NY) all made glowing remarks in support of NIH and shared an optimism that the agency would receive a significant increase in its budget in FY 2021. Members of the Subcommittee questioned the witnesses on a variety of topics including NIH’s role in responding to the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak, initiatives addressing health disparities, Alzheimer’s disease research, open access of federally funded research, and several disease-specific topics. A statement from Collins and a recording of the hearing are available on the House LHHS website.

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2020 Census Begins Accepting Responses as COIVD-19 Poses Potential Follow-Up Hurdles

Earlier this month, households across the country began receiving invitations in the mail to complete their 2020 Census forms ahead of Census Day on April 1. Households can respond to the Census online, by phone, or by completing and mailing a paper questionnaire which will be sent to households who do not first respond online or by phone. Particularly in light of the massive disruptions and social distancing efforts caused by the COVID-19 epidemic, it is important for as many households as possible to self-respond to the Census, to minimize the in-person contact of enumerators who will be sent to household that do not respond on their own. The Bureau has released information about how the outbreak has changed its plans for the Census, particularly its strategy to ensure that college students are counted correctly. Even if students who are home on Census Day, April 1, should be counted according to the residence criteria which states they should be counted where they live and sleep most of the time. Congress is closely monitoring the challenges the decennial faces. In an exchange during a recent Senate Appropriations hearing on the Department of Commerce budget with Sen. Brian Schatz, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross confirmed that the 2020 Census does not include a citizenship question, that the data are kept private and secure, and that information may only be used for statistical purposes.

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NCHS Taps BEA Director Brian Moyer to Lead Agency

On March 9, the CDC’s Deputy Director for Public Health Science and Surveillance announced the selection of Brian Moyer as the next Director of the National Center for Health Statistics, effective March 30. Moyer is currently the Director of the Bureau of Economic Analysis within the Commerce Department. Jennifer Madans has been NCHS’s acting director since the retirement of former director Charlie Rothwell at the end of 2018. It is expected that BEA’s Deputy Director Mary Bohman will take over as acting director of BEA following Moyer’s departure.

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Census Bureau Releases Update on 2020 Census Disclosure Avoidance Strategy

On March 13, John Abowd, the Census Bureau’s Chief Scientist, and Victoria Velkoff, the Bureau’s Associate Director for Demographic Programs, published a blog post to give a status update on the Census Bureau’s strategy for avoiding disclosure of personal information as a result of data released from the 2020 Census. The Bureau had previously announced that it planned to implement the move to a standard called “differential privacy” (which uses an algorithm to injects precise amounts of random noise into data until it reaches a desired threshold of obfuscation). It released demonstration data products to give users a chance to see how 2010 Census data would have been affected under these conditions and sponsored a National Academies workshop to collect feedback (see COSSA’s article on this issue in ASA Footnotes).

In their blog post, Abowd and Velkoff note that feedback from the Academies workshop and elsewhere identified “unacceptable” errors created during the processing phase of the disclosure avoidance process: “To put it succinctly, the resounding message was that this interim version of the DAS [disclosure avoidance strategy] is generating significant error in the data that we need to resolve prior to the production of the 2020 Census Data Products.”

Abowd and Velkoff list several potential solutions that Census Bureau staff are exploring, including “changes to the geographic hierarchy used within the DAS, alternative estimation techniques to correct for the known biases of Non-Negative Least Squares optimization, and multiphase estimation of key statistics during post-processing.” They share that the Bureau is compiling “fitness-for-use” measures to evaluate the effectiveness of the solutions developed for different use-cases and situations. COSSA will continue to share information on these measures and solutions as details are released in the coming months.

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OMB Releases Evidence Act-Mandated Guidance on Program Evaluation Standards and Practices

As part of its ongoing work to implement the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act of 2018 (Evidence Act) (see COSSA’s previous coverage), the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) released guidance on evaluation standards to guide agencies in developing and implementing evaluation activities, evaluation policies, and in hiring and retaining qualified staff, as well as examples of best practices for agencies to emulate. OMB plans to release further guidance on how agencies should use evidence to more effectively deliver on their missions. The standards for evidence-building identified and elaborated on in the guidance are relevance and utility, rigor, independence and objectivity, transparency, and ethics. The guidance also identifies the following ten practices for agencies to consider as they undertake evaluation and evidence-building activities:

  1. Build and Maintain Evaluation Capacity
  2. Use Expert Consultation Effectively
  3. Establish, Implement, and Widely Disseminate an Agency Evaluation Policy
  4. Pre-Specify Evaluation Design and Methods
  5. Engage Key Stakeholders Meaningfully
  6. Plan Dissemination Strategically
  7. Take Steps to Ensure Ethical Treatment of Participants
  8. Foster and Steward Data Management for Evaluation
  9. Make Evaluation Data Available for Secondary Use
  10. Establish and Uphold Policies and Procedures to Protect Independence and Objectivity

More information can be found in OMB’s guidance.

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NSF Seeks Nominations for Advisory Committees

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has issued its annual call for recommendations for membership to its various advisory committees and technical boards. These committees advise NSF’s offices and directorates on program management, research direction, and policies impacting the agency.  Committees of particular interest to the COSSA community include the Advisory Committee for Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences and the Advisory Committee for Education and Human Resources. Guidelines for recommendations and committee contact information can be found in the federal register. Recommendations for membership are maintained for 12 months.

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NIMHD Holds 10th Anniversary Symposium

On March 3, the National Institute of Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD) within the National Institutes of Health (NIH) held the Innovations to Promote Health Equity symposium celebrating the Institute’s 10th anniversary. The symposium, held on the NIH campus in Bethesda, MD, featured comments from NIMHD Director Eliseo Perez-Stable and NIH Director Francis Collins and focused on the latest innovations in health disparities research organized into four topical panels: Division of Intramural Research, Community Health and Population Sciences, Integrative Biological and Behavioral Sciences, and Clinical and Health Services Research. A video recording of the full symposium is available on the NIH website. The symposium agenda and program booklet are available on the NIMHD website.

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NOAA Seeking Nominations for Science Advisory Board

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has announced it is soliciting nominations for the NOAA Science Advisory Board. Members of the Science Advisory Board are appointed for up to two three-year terms and convene three times a year to advise NOAA on strategy for research and science applications. Nominees are welcome from social science fields such as geography, sociology, and behavioral science. Nominations will be accepted through April 23, 2020. More information can be found on the NOAA website.

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