analysis of data on scientific and engineering resources and to provide a source of information for policy formulation by other agencies of the Federal Government” (National Science Foundation Act of 1950, as amended; 42 U.S.C. 1862).1 The National Science Foundation Act of 1950, as amended, in conjunction with the Privacy Act of 1974, as amended,2 defines the requirement to protect the confidentiality of respondent data. The NSF act pertains to SED because, although it is sponsored and funded by a consortium of federal agencies, NSF is the lead agency in the consortium, provides the bulk of funding, and is responsible for implementing the survey and disseminating the findings. The act provides the legal authority to collect the SED.

Section 14(i) of the NSF act, as amended, provides that survey responses “shall not be disclosed to the public unless the information has been transformed into statistical or abstract formats that do not allow for the identification of the supplier.” In addition to the restriction on public disclosure of identifiable statistical data, section 14(i) also specifically prohibits public disclosure of the “identities of individuals, organizations, and institutions supplying information” in responses to NSF surveys (see Box 2-1).

The legislative imperatives pertaining to SED are reflected in the confidentiality pledge statements included with both the paper and the web-based versions of the questionnaire. The confidentiality pledge statement on the survey forms assures potential respondents that their answers will not be disclosed to the public in identifiable form and specifically refers to the NSF act and the Privacy Act.

The reasons for NSF’s concern for the confidentiality of survey responses, Cohen stated, are based on these legal dictates, as well as on practical concerns that confront all statistical agencies that collect data from the public. In the face of increasing resistance to responding to statistical surveys generally, the assurance of protection of respondents’ answers from public disclosure is considered essential to the continued ability of federal agencies to collect survey data. This is particularly the case with SED, for which the danger of revealing confidential information provided by individual respondents is perceived to be greater than in many other sample surveys because there is a very high likelihood that information about a member of a

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine
500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001

Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement