At this writing, the U.S. statistical budget has been relatively flat for some years (except for the advent of the American Community Survey budget). These flat-line budgets have occurred at the same time that the difficulty and costs of measuring U.S. society have increased. In a climate of tight budgets and increasing costs of demographic measurement, federal statistical agencies face real threats. Such are the times that need real statistical leadership and careful stewardship of the statistical information infrastructure of the country. We fear that many surveys, the NCVS among them, can easily die “deaths from a thousand cuts.” Attempts to live within the budgets lead to short-term cuts in features of surveys without certain knowledge of their effects on survey quality. Each such decision runs the risk that the country will be misled due to increased errors in data products. At some point, the basic goals of a survey cannot be met under restricted funding. The country deserves to know this when it is occurring.
The panel thinks that one opportunity for such communication comes in the annual report on statistical program funding that the U.S. Office of Management and Budget is required to prepare by a provision of the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995 (44 U.S.C. 3504(e)(2)). This annual report—Statistical Programs of the United States Government—has been published for each fiscal year since 1997. The report can serve as a vehicle for alerting the executive and legislative branches to how the budget has affected the quality of statistical programs, both to the good and to the bad. With specific regard to BJS, the annual reports have generally documented the agency’s responses to declining budgets. For instance, the reports for fiscal years 2007 and 2008 bore a similar warning (U.S. Office of Management and Budget, 2006c:8):
BJS did not receive the funding requested to restore its base funding necessary to meet the growing costs of data collection and the information demands of policymakers and the criminal justice community. To address base adjustments insufficient to carry out ongoing operations of its National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) and other national collection programs, BJS has utilized many strategies, such as cutting sample, to keep costs within available spending levels. However, changes to the NCVS have had significant effects on the precision of the estimates—year-to-year change estimates are no longer feasible and have been replaced with two-year rolling averages.
The guidance provided by these annual reports could be enhanced through fuller explication of the impact of budget reductions (or increases) on the precision of estimates, as well as articulation of constraints and effects on federal statistical surveys systemwide. An example of the latter is the Census Bureau’s sample redesign process; following the decennial census, the Census Bureau realigns the sample frames for the various demographic