statistics are used by Congress, executive agencies, the courts, state and local agencies, and researchers in order to determine the impact of BJS programs and the means to enhance that impact. The review will assess the organization of BJS and its relationships with other data gathering entities in the Department of Justice, as well as with state and local governments, to determine ways to improve the relevance, quality, and cost-effectiveness of justice statistics. The review will consider priority uses for additional funding that may be obtained through budget initiatives or reallocation of resources within the agency. A focus of the panel’s work will be to consider alternative options for conducting the National Crime Victimization Survey, which is the largest BJS program. The goal of the panel’s work will be to assist BJS to refine its priorities and goals, as embodied in its strategic plan, both in the short and longer terms. The panel’s recommendations will address ways to improve the impact and cost-effectiveness of the agency’s statistics on crime and the criminal justice system. [emphasis added]
BJS specifically requested that the panel begin its work by providing guidance on options for conducting the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), one of many data series sponsored by BJS and one that consumes a large share (as much as 60 percent) of the agency’s annual appropriations. This interim report responds to this request.
Since the survey began full-scale data collection in the early 1970s, the NCVS has become a major social indicator for the United States. Serving as a complement to the official measure of crimes reported to the police (the Uniform Crime Reporting [UCR] program administered by the Federal Bureau of Investigation), the NCVS has been the basis for better understanding the cost and context of criminal victimization. However, and particularly over the course of the last decade, the effectiveness of the NCVS has been undermined by the demands of conducting an increasingly expensive survey in an effectively flat-line budgetary environment. In order to keep the survey going in light of tight resources, BJS has reduced the survey’s sample size over time, and other design features have been altered. When the survey began in 1972, the sample of addresses for interviewing numbered 72,000; in 2005, the NCVS was administered in about 38,600 households, yielding interviews with 67,000 people. Although this sample size still qualifies the NCVS as a large data collection program, occurrences of victimization are essentially a rare event relative to the whole population: many respondents to the survey do not have incidents to report when they are contacted by the survey. At present, the sample size is such that only a year-to-year change of 8 percent or more in the NCVS measure of violent crime can be deemed statistically to be significantly different from no change at all. In its reports on the survey, BJS has to combine multiple years of data in order to comment on change over time, which is less desirable than an annual measure of year-to-year change.