The Consortium of Social Science Associations (COSSA) began in the late 1960s as an informal group of social science associations that met to exchange information and discuss common problems. In May 1981, the disciplinary associations, responding to disproportionately large budget cuts proposed by the new Reagan Administration for the social and behavioral sciences at the National Science Foundation (NSF), used the informal COSSA collaboration to establish a Washington-based advocacy effort.

With strong support from the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) and from major universities, the Consortium was launched in May 1981. Recruited from the SSRC staff, historian Roberta Balstad Miller led the defense of these sciences from the Reagan administration’s assault. Successful in mitigating the budget cuts, COSSA was incorporated in 1982 as a 501(c)(6) organization by ten disciplinary-based social/behavioral science associations.

That same year, COSSA’s Founding Members decided to invite other associations to become Affiliates of the organization, and universities and research institutes to become Contributors. In 2003, this nomenclature was changed to Governing Members, Membership Organizations, Universities, and Centers and Institutes. COSSA also encouraged some of the former Affiliates to enhance their status to Governing Members, and nine groups have done so.

In 2010, the Consortium had 18 Governing Members, 23 Membership Organizations, 57 Universities, and 12 Centers and Institutes.

By 1982 COSSA had moved beyond NSF and beyond budgets to monitor all federal agencies that provide support for social and behavioral research and to advocate for a non-politicized research agenda. A biweekly newsletter, the COSSA Washington UPDATE, became the Consortium’s information tool to inform the community. In order to fulfill its mission as a bridge between the academic research community and the Washington policymaking world, COSSA began early to present briefings on Capitol Hill, where social and behavioral scientists would present their research results on important policy issues.