assessment is instructive. First, many research agencies struggle with defining quality and then constructing a process to assess it. This is especially true in assessing the impact of research or research outcomes as a measure of quality (National Research Council, 2008b). Second, scientists outside the agency are heavily relied on, either individually or as peer reviewers, to assess quality. Peer review has many other purposes than proposal review. Many federal research agencies rely on individual peer reviewers or peer-review panels to set priorities, develop programs, and even conduct personnel evaluations. Third, individual processes, such as peer review of proposals and the report review process, should include an evaluation component that provides useful feedback on efficiency and quality. Like other well-managed federal agencies, NIJ should establish self-assessment as an ongoing activity and use it to constantly improve its operations. Furthermore, to ensure transparency, it should make the results of such assessments publicly available. This is unlikely to happen, however, unless our recommendations on leadership and independence are implemented.
NIJ is the only federal agency devoted to crime and justice research. Despite the problems noted in this report, it has accomplished much in its short history. Our assessment of NIJ supports its continuation and growth, but with legislation and actions by the executive and congressional branches that will allow it to fulfill its role as the nation’s center for improvements in crime control and prevention. When those changes happen, we are confident that NIJ’s self-assessments and periodic external assessments will describe an agency that is science driven and that is making even greater contributions to the understanding of crime and the improvement of justice.