late 1960s and convening planning conferences that would give shape to the NCVS and its pretests. Since “it was clear from the pilot studies that large samples would be required to obtain reliable estimates of victimization for crime classes of intense interest (e.g., rape),” “the Census Bureau was the only organization that could field such a large survey” and hence was the natural choice as the data collection agent for the new NCVS (Cantor and Lynch, 2000:105).

The choice of the Census Bureau as the data collector for the NCVS had implications for the survey’s design, as summarized by Cantor and Lynch (2000:107):

Other design features of NCS were occasioned by the need to fit into the organization of the Census Bureau and the Current Population Survey (CPS). CPS is the largest intercensal survey conducted in the world and, at the time, NCS was to be the second largest of these surveys. Sharing interviewers between the two surveys would mean great efficiencies for the [Census Bureau]. CPS employed a rotating panel design. This was viewed as an advantage to NCS for a number of reasons. One was the ability to use prior interviews to ‘bound’ subsequent interviews. … A second was that the rotating panel design substantially increased the precision of the year-to-year change estimates. The panel design feature produces a natural positive correlation across annual estimates. This, in turn, substantially reduces the standard error on change estimates.

As may be expected, the experience of decades of work has illustrated both advantages and disadvantages of the relationship between BJS as sponsor and funder of the NCVS and the Census Bureau as its data collector. Relatively few of the conceptual pros and cons are unique to the BJS-Census relationship; rather, they are generally applicable to any contractor and client.

Others, however, in the panel’s view deserve comment. A basic concern that has arisen about the Census Bureau as the data collection agent for the NCVS is the lack of transparency in costs. Historically, the Census Bureau has not provided its federal agency survey sponsors with detailed breakdowns in survey costs (and rationales for changes in costs, over and above the known increasing costs of gaining compliance in survey research). It is the panel’s view that disaggregated costs are key to effective innovation in large-scale surveys. The data collector must know what survey design choices are associated with the largest portions of costs in order to effectively consider trade-offs of costs and errors. Recent attention to survey costs (e.g., at conferences hosted by the Federal Committee on Statistical Methodology and the National Institute of Statistical Sciences) have shown the value of detailed cost accounting.3


See (see the session on “modeling survey costs”); Karr and Last (2006).

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