Blog Archives

Government Shutdown Averted, For Now

Congress was able to pass a continuing resolution (CR) on September 30, the final day of fiscal year (FY) 2015, within hours of a deadline that would result in a government shutdown. However, the CR simply kicks the can to December 11, the new deadline for coming to a final agreement on FY 2016 appropriations. While policymakers have provided themselves an additional 10 weeks to complete work on the annual spending bills, the path to the finish line remains unclear, complicated further by recent events like the announcement from House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) of his retirement at the end of October and the upcoming Republican leadership elections. In addition, the Treasury Department announced last week that the federal government is expected to reach its borrowing limit (“debt limit”) by November 5, several weeks earlier than originally expected. These developments, coupled with real-time negotiations on a larger two-year budget deal, make for a challenging chess match that promises to continue well into December, if not longer. Observers fear that the real chance for a government shutdown will occur in December when the stakes for a budget deal are that much higher.

What’s the likely outcome? It’s anyone’s guess at this point. However, there are several scenarios that could take shape in the coming weeks, including (but certainly not limited to): a grand budget bargain that raises caps on discretionary spending similar to the bipartisan budget deal struck two years ago, which would provide some relief to federal agencies and programs that have been feeling the pinch in recent years; a year-long CR that would fund the federal government at FY 2015 levels for the balance of FY 2016, keeping sequestration in place for another year; or a government shutdown that eventually forces action on one of the aforementioned scenarios. Check out COSSA’s funding updates, policy statements, and letters for a refresher on the latest developments impacting federal agencies and programs of interest to the COSSA community.

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Posted in Issue 18 (October 6), Update, Volume 34 (2015)

White House SBS Team Issues Inaugural Report; President Signs Executive Order

photo (1)On September 15, President Obama signed an Executive Order calling on federal agencies and departments to use “behavioral science insights” to “design government policies to better serve the American people.” The order comes as the Social and Behavioral Sciences Team (SBST), a team of about a dozen behavioral scientists within the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC), issued its first annual report. SBST was established in 2014 as a mechanism for testing and applying social and behavioral science interventions to make government programs more efficient and more accessible. The team is chaired by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) with participation by a dozen federal agencies, departments, and White House offices.

The SBST 2015 Annual Report describes several efforts taken in partnership with federal agencies to streamline access to federal programs and to improve government program efficiency. Activities include increasing the number of servicemembers saving for retirement, boosting college enrollment, staving-off student loan default among vulnerable groups, and assisting farmers with obtaining credit.

The Executive Order signed by the President makes SBST a permanent part of the federal government and encourages federal agencies to work with the team to identify programs, policies and operations that could benefit from behavioral science insights and develop strategies for applying them; recruit behavioral scientists into federal service; and “strengthen agency relationships with the research community to better use empirical findings from the behavioral sciences.”

As OSTP Director and Assistant to the President for Science and Technology John Holdren stated during a White House event on September 15, “social and behavioral sciences are real science, [and] abundantly warrant support in the federal science and technology budget.” Other senior Obama Administration officials spoke at the event, which COSSA attended, in support of SBST and social and behavioral science research, including Shaun Donovan, Director of the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), who talked about building an evidence agenda that not only identifies “what works,” but also acts on that knowledge to implement best practices.

Those interested in collaborating with the team—such as on a specific program evaluation and/or through a fellowship or other employment opportunity—can register with the team on the new SBST website (

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Posted in Issue 17 (September 22), Update, Volume 34 (2015)

Congress Returns for a Busy Fall

Following a month-long August recess, Congress returns to work this week to a full agenda of must-pass items. At the top of the list will be passing a continuing resolution (CR) to keep the government funded and avert a shutdown come October 1. However, unrelated controversies dealing with Planned Parenthood and the Confederate flag will likely make the road to a CR difficult in the coming weeks.

Assuming we get to October 1 without the government shutting down, the next big issue on the agenda is brokering some sort of deal to reverse or at least mitigate the impacts of sequestration, which include the current spending caps that are tamping down funding across federal agencies and programs. As previously reported, work on the fiscal year (FY) 2016 appropriations bills sputtered out as Congress headed for recess because, among other reasons, Republicans have written the FY 2016 spending bills keeping within the spending caps, while Democrats and the White House vowed to block bills that do not bust through the caps. It does not appear that much has changed during the recess to bridge this divide, leaving many to wonder how any of these issues will get resolved in the remaining months of 2015.

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Posted in Issue 16 (September 8), Update, Volume 34 (2015)

Congress is Home for Summer Break. Tell them #WhySocialScience

The House left for August recess over a week ago and the Senate followed suit last week, leaving crickets in DC for the next few weeks. As previously reported, progress on the fiscal year (FY) 2016 appropriations bill all but stalled out as Congress prepared to leave for its month-long summer break. The big question heading into the fall will be whether the GOP leadership in Congress and the Obama White House will be able to come to terms on an endgame for the annual funding bills before the government is forced to shut down for the second time in three years on October 1. Threatening progress is the emergence of concerns surrounding Planned Parenthood funding and the flying of the Confederate flag on federal land. Policy riders such as these could further paralyze the process in the waning days of the current fiscal year, leaving the fate of FY 2016 (which begins October 1) unknown at best.

Republican leaders in Congress have promised in recent days that they will not bend to pressure from some in their caucus to allow the government to shut down over the policy issues mentioned above. Specifically, conservatives in Congress are demanding that must-pass funding legislation, due October 1, include language defunding Planned Parenthood, which would all but guarantee a government shutdown.

The August recess is the perfect time for constituents to engage with their elected officials in their home districts about the issues important to your local community, whether by attending town hall meetings or scheduling your own appointments to speak one-on-one. COSSA has prepared a toolkit to assist social and behavioral scientists in outreach to Congress during these last few weeks of summer. Don’t let these macro political issues distract policy makers from issues important to our science. Tell them #WhySocialScience is important to your state and community!

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Posted in Issue 15 (August 11), Update, Volume 34 (2015)

Why Social Science? Share Your Stories!

Why Social ScienceCOSSA has launched a new campaign that seeks to collect stories of social science success from social and behavioral scientists across all disciplines. Is your research pushing the frontiers of science or advancing your field? Has your research contributed to an important finding or breakthrough? Are there interesting applications or potential applications to your work? If so, we want to hear it!

You may submit your stories using COSSA’s Why Social Science? webpage. Stories will be shared through social media (#WhySocialScience) and other COSSA outreach efforts over the next several months.

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Posted in Issue 14 (July 28), Update, Volume 34 (2015)

COSSA Releases Statement on House & Senate Labor-HHS Appropriations Bills

On July 2, COSSA released a statement detailing its objections to the fiscal year (FY) 2016 Labor, Health and Human Services , Education, and Related Agencies (Labor-HHS) spending bills passed by the House and Senate Appropriations Committees in June. Although both bills would provide significant increases to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), as the statement notes

“Unfortunately, the much needed increases in NIH funding in both bills come at the expense of federal agencies whose work plays a vital and collaborative role in the U.S. scientific enterprise, particularly as it relates to our nation’s health. As such, COSSA cannot support either appropriations bill.

COSSA is particularly concerned by the proposal to eliminate the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) in the House bill, both bills’ inadequate funding of the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and the Institute of Education Science (IES), and restrictions placed on research conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).”

The statement is available in full here.

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Posted in Issue 13 (July 14), Update, Volume 34 (2015)

House and Senate Appropriations Committees Approve FY 2016 Labor-HHS Bills

The Appropriations Committees in the House and Senate advanced their respective fiscal year (FY) 2016 bills for Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies (Labor-HHS). The House passed its version on June 24 (see COSSA’s preliminary analysis of the bill), and the Senate on June 25. Both bills would provide sizable increases for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), with a larger increase coming from the Senate’s bill. The House bill proposes to completely eliminate the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) but maintains strong funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), while the Senate keeps AHRQ but would inflict significant cuts to both agencies.

Read on for COSSA’s full analysis of both bills and more details on the funding prospects for these and other agencies important to social and behavioral science.

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Posted in Issue 12 (June 30), Update, Volume 34 (2015)

HOT TOPIC: Scientific Organizations Reflect on Building “Trust in Science”

By Julia Milton, COSSA

The scientific community has been grappling with topics related to science communication and public trust in science lately. This spring, several major scientific organizations met to focus on these issues. To name a few, the National Academy of Science’s 2015 Henry and Bryna David Lecture was held on “Communicating the Value and Values of Science;” the AAAS’ annual Forum on Science and Technology Policy held not one, but two break-out sessions on “Public Opinion and Policy Making,” as well as an evening plenary lecture entitled “Science to Action: Thoughts on Convincing a Skeptical Public;” and the Academies’ Roundtable on Public Interfaces of the Life Sciences held a workshop, “Does the Public Trust Science? Trust and Confidence at the Intersections of the Life Sciences and Society.”

According to Pew Research Associate Director Cary Funk, the public generally has confidence in both the institution of science and scientists as a profession. However, when it comes to specific science-related issues like evolution, attitudes become more varied and may be correlated with factors like political ideology, education, and religiosity, depending on the topic. There is certainly a sense that “science” has been on the defensive lately as public policy debates on climate change, childhood vaccinations, and genetically modified foods generate controversy and incidents like the high-profile retraction of a study on attitudes toward same-sex marriage grab headlines. (more…)

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Posted in Issue 11 (June 16), Update, Volume 34 (2015)

House Passes FY16 NSF, Census, Justice Spending Bill

After two days of debate and consideration of dozens of amendments, the House passed the fiscal year (FY) 2016 Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies (CJS) appropriations bill this evening on June 4 by a vote of 242 to 183. Twelve Democrats voted in favor of the bill with 10 Republicans voting against.

As previously reported, this annual spending bill–which provides funding for the National Science Foundation (NSF), Department of Justice (DOJ) research programs, and the Census Bureau and other federal statistical agencies–includes very troubling provisions impacting social and behavioral science research (see COSSA’s analysis for full details).

There were no amendments offered, positive or negative, to the NSF section of the bill, leaving the section unchanged from the version that was approved by the House Appropriations Committee on May 20.

However, several amendments passed impacting the budget of the Census Bureau, including:

  • $100 million from Periodic Censuses and Programs to increase funding for justice assistance grants (Rep. David Reichert, R-WA)
  • $17.3 million from Periodic Censuses and Programs for sex trafficking victims services in DOJ (Rep. Ted Poe, R-TX)
  • $4 million from Current Surveys and Programs to increase DOJ’s Office of Justice Programs (Rep. Richard Nugent, R-FL)

In addition, Rep. Poe continued his assault on the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS) by offering an amendment to make the ACS voluntary; the amendment passed by voice vote, but not before CJS Subcommittee Ranking Member Chaka Fattah (D-PA) keenly articulated the importance of a mandatory survey.

While no amendments were offered impacting NSF, several Members of Congress took to the House floor to object to problematic report language in the bill that would direct 70 percent of NSF research funding to engineering and physical, biological and computer science, thereby undercutting funding to the Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences (SBE) directorate (as well as the Geosciences directorate) (video can be viewed here). Rep. Daniel Lipinski (D-IL) (video at 05:17:06) called these cuts to SBE “misguided” and highlighted several examples of social science research that has led to major breakthroughs impacting the health and prosperity of the nation. In addition, Rep. David Price (D-NC) (video at 10:35:39) asked CJS Subcommittee Chairman John Culberson (R-TX) for a commitment to work together to fix this language and preserve NSF’s discretion to decide what grants to fund, to which Culberson expressed his intent to work with the Congressman. House Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Nita Lowey (D-NY) (video at 04:46:20) and Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) (video at 05:13:13), Ranking Member of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, also expressed their objection to the NSF language and cuts to Census.

Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) (video at 05:21:35) took to the floor to defend the NSF language, acknowledging that he worked directly with CJS Subcommittee staff to incorporate it into the committee report. He reiterated his concerns about NSF’s responsibility to be accountable to taxpayers and fund grants that are in the “national interest.”

The next step in the FY 2016 funding of these agencies is Senate consideration of its version of the CJS appropriations bill, which could occur as early as next week with a possible markup in the Senate CJS Subcommittee.

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Posted in Issue 11 (June 16), Update, Volume 34 (2015)

House Advances Bills to Cut Social Science Funding

As we have been reporting over the last several weeks, the U.S. House of Representatives has been busy considering legislation to reauthorize the America COMPETES Act, landmark legislation first enacted in 2007 to reignite U.S. investment in scientific research.  It serves as authorizing legislation for the National Science Foundation (NSF), among other agencies.  The House version of COMPETES reauthorization is a major departure from earlier versions, garnering deep opposition from the broader scientific community, including from COSSA. Among the many problematic provisions in the bill is language to cut NSF’s Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences (SBE) directorate by half.  Despite widespread opposition, the House passed the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2015 (H.R. 1806) on May 20 by a narrow margin (217-205).  The COMPETES bill now heads to the Senate, where we don’t expect to see any action until later in the summer or fall. (more…)

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Posted in Issue 10 (June 2), Update, Volume 34 (2015)


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