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Census Bureau Temporarily Suspends 2020 Field Operations, In-Person Survey Interviews

The Census Bureau has announced further adjustments to its planned 2020 decennial census operations in response to the coronavirus epidemic (see previous coverage). On March 18, Census Director Steven Dillingham announced a two-week suspension of 2020 field operations. In addition, the Bureau’s two major facilities in Jeffersonville, IN, the National Processing Center and Paper Data Capture Center East, have dramatically reduced on-site staff to the minimum necessary to continue operations. These measures were further extended by an additional two weeks, through April 15, and could be extended even longer in accordance with public health guidelines. In addition, the Census Bureau has temporarily suspended in-person interviews for its ongoing surveys, including the American Community Survey. Where possible, field workers will call participants and seek to collect information by phone. This marks the first major interruption for some of these surveys in over 50 years of data collection.

At the same time, the Census Bureau is strongly encouraging all American households to respond to the 2020 Census online—both for convenience and to minimize in-person contact. The questionnaire can be filled out here—even households who have not received or lost their Census ID code can respond by clicking “if you do not have a Census ID, click here.” The Census Bureau has also published a response rate map, updated daily, that allows users to see the self-response rate in their state, city, or census tract.

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Posted in Issue 7 (March 31), Update, Volume 39 (2020)

NSF Creates Resource Webpage for Information on COVID-19

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has established a resource webpage compiling relevant information about NSF activities addressing the COVID-19 novel coronavirus. Some of the resources available on the webpage include a FAQ about NSF awards, a document describing NSF’s implementation of an Office of Management and Budget (OMB) directive, a Dear Colleague Letter inviting research proposals through the Rapid Response Research (RAPID) program, and a list of  NSF deadlines that have changed due to COVID-19. This resource page is frequently updated to include the most relevant and accurate information.

In addition, on March 30, leadership from the Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences Directorate (SBE) circulated a letter to the social and behavioral science community providing additional details on NSF’s COVID-19 resources and encouraging proposals from SBE fields.

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Posted in Issue 7 (March 31), Update, Volume 39 (2020)

NIH Seeks Revision Applications to Support Firearms Injury Research

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has released a Notice of Special Interest soliciting competitive revision applications to programs that could potentially include firearms injury and mortality prevention research. This notice comes in the wake of NIH receiving $12.5 million dollars for research studying firearms injury and mortality prevention in the fiscal year (FY) 2020 Appropriations bill (see COSSA’s analysis). Like all federal agencies, NIH is legislatively restricted from using its funding for certain activities such as advocating for gun control policies, but is able to fund research topics aiming to understand the underlying risk factors and variables. Topics cited by the NIH notice as within the permitted scope of research include:

  • Improving the ability to identify at-risk individuals for firearm injury and mortality;
  • Developing healthcare procedures to accurately screen for risk of firearm injury and mortality;
  • Understanding factors that are associated with firearm injury and mortality risk and resilience;
  • Developing evidence-based interventions to address risk; and
  • Assessing the public health and criminal justice systems’ approaches towards the reduction of firearm injury and mortality.

Revision applications will be accepted through May 15, 2020. More information is available on the NIH website.

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Posted in Issue 7 (March 31), Update, Volume 39 (2020)

France Córdova Ends Tenure as NSF Director; Timeline for Confirming New Director Unclear

National Science Foundation (NSF) Director France Córdova finished her six-year term as the head of the agency on March 31, 2020. Córdova, an astrophysicist and former Vice Chancellor for Research at the University of California at Santa Barbara, served as NSF Director since 2014. A farewell message from Córdova to NSF staff is available on the NSF website.

In January 2020, the White House announced the nomination of Sethuraman Panchanathan to succeed Córdova as NSF Director (see COSSA’s previous coverage). However, no hearing has yet been scheduled for Panchanathan’s consideration for the Senate-confirmed position due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Due to these complications in the schedule, the timeline for the Senate to consider Panchanathan for NSF Director remains unclear. COSSA will provide more details as they become available.

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Posted in Issue 7 (March 31), Update, Volume 39 (2020)

NSF Releases Report on Social Science Doctoral Recipients

The National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES), the principal statistical agency within the National Science Foundation (NSF), released a report on “Doctorate Recipients in the Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences (SBE).” The report is part of a series of profiles highlighting trends in education related to each of NSF’s seven research directorates. The SBE report presents data on doctorates received in psychology, economics, sociology, political science, and other social sciences from NCSES’s Survey of Earned Doctorates and Survey of Doctorate Recipients. The full report and associated data tables are available on the NCSES website.

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Posted in Issue 7 (March 31), Update, Volume 39 (2020)

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

Congress

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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Posted in Issue 6 (March 17), Update, Volume 39 (2020)

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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Posted in Issue 6 (March 17), Update, Volume 39 (2020)

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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Posted in Issue 6 (March 17), Update, Volume 39 (2020)

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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Posted in Issue 6 (March 17), Update, Volume 39 (2020)

OMB 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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Posted in Issue 6 (March 17), Update, Volume 39 (2020)

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