Blog Archives

Save the Date: COSSA Annual Meeting & Advocacy Day, March 15-16

COSSA will hold its 2016 Annual Meeting and Social and Behavioral Science Advocacy Day on March 15 and 16 in Washington, DC. The meeting brings together more than 100 members of the social and behavioral science community and provides a platform for COSSA members to engage with leaders of federal agencies, Congressional staff, and colleagues from across the science and higher education communities.

The meeting on March 15 will take place at the George Washington University Marvin Center and will feature updates from leaders at federal science agencies and panels highlighting issues impacting the social and behavioral science community. On March 16, COSSA members will take to Capitol Hill for Social and Behavioral Science Advocacy Day. They will have the opportunity to meet with their congressional delegations in the House and Senate and educate staff about the importance of federally funded social and behavioral science research.

Keep an eye on COSSA’s annual meeting page for more details as they become available. Early bird registration will open in December.

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Posted in Issue 21 (November 17), Update, Volume 34 (2015)

With Budget Deal in the Books, Work Turns to Finalizing 2016 Spending Bills

Last week was an eventful one in Washington. In just about 72 hours, House and Senate negotiators successfully brokered a two year budget deal with the White House, effectively providing two years of relief from sequestration (i.e. the painful spending caps holding down discretionary spending) and suspending the nation’s debt limit, which would have been breached this week without Congressional action, until early 2017. Last week also ushered in a changing of the guard in the House, with the resignation of Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) as Speaker and as the Representative from the 8th District of Ohio, and election of Paul Ryan (R-WI) as the new Speaker, effective immediately.

The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 provides sequester relief for two years (FY 2016-2017) by temporarily lifting the top-line discretionary budget caps set by a previous budget deal. The deal provides for $80 billion in additional discretionary funding over two years ($50 billion in FY 2016 and $30 billion in FY 2017), split evenly between defense and non-defense spending, and an additional $16 billion in Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) funding. This means that for FY 2016 (which began on October 1, 2015), non-defense discretionary spending (which includes federal research accounts) will receive an additional $33 billion spread across the government.

Now that a budget deal has been reached and sequestration relief temporarily achieved, Congress will return to its work on enacting final FY 2016 appropriations bills. Appropriations Committee leaders in the House and Senate will provide guidance to their respective subcommittees this week on how much additional funding each will be allocated under the agreement. Once the subcommittees receive their new allocations (known as “302(b) allocations”), the subcommittees will get to work on revising their bills and conferencing with the other chamber to reach a final agreement. Congress has only about four working weeks to complete the FY 2016 appropriations bills before the current stop-gap spending measure expires on December 11. The risk of a government shutdown in December still looms, but the chances have been drastically reduced thanks to the budget agreement passed last week.

For more information on the budget deal, check out the detailed analysis prepared by AAAS.

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Posted in Issue 20 (November 3), Update, Volume 34 (2015)

House Science Committee Advances “National Interest” Bill and Dyslexia Legislation

On October 8, the House Science, Space and Technology Committee advanced two bills that would impact the National Science Foundation (NSF): the Scientific Research in the National Interest Act (H.R. 3293) and the Research Excellence and Advancements for Dyslexia (READ) Act (H.R. 3033). Read on for details.

The Scientific Research in the National Interest Act, sponsored by Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX), was derived from Sec. 106 of the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2015 (H.R. 1806), which passed the House in May despite strong and vocal opposition from the broad scientific research community.  H.R. 3293 seeks to set a definition for federally-funded research conducted in the “national interest.” As Chairman Smith noted during the mark up, the bill is intended to ensure that NSF is funding “only high priority research.”  He then included for the record a list of NSF grants that, despite making it through NSF’s highly regarded merit review process, the Chairman argued were not worth taxpayer support.

The bill passed by voice vote, but not before a number of Committee Democrats expressed their concern and opposition.  Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) asserted that the bill continues the majority’s “political review” of research projects at NSF and that the Chairman is using “his own subjective definition” of national interest.  She added that the bill sends a message to the scientific community: “don’t take risks.” Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) also spoke in opposition to the bill, noting that “we [Members of Congress] are not the gold standard” when it comes to review of scientific research; that should be left to the NSF merit review process.  Rep. Bill Foster (D-IL), the only scientist on the committee, added that the bill assumes that NSF’s merit review process is broken, which it is not.  COSSA issued a statement on the bill in July.

The Committee also passed the READ Act, which would require NSF to spend $5 million annually on the science of dyslexia using already appropriated funds.  An amendment was offered by Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD) to authorize $5 million in new funding as opposed to requiring funding from existing amounts, but the amendment failed by voice vote.

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Posted in Issue 19 (October 20), Update, Volume 34 (2015)

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)


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