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Director's Message: The Challenges of Deficit-Driven Budgets


I was honored to participate at the 30th anniversary celebration of the Consortium of Social Science Associations (COSSA) in Washington, DC, on November 2 and 3. Along with several other leaders in the social sciences, I served on a panel titled "Challenges for Social/Behavioral Sciences in the Deficit Driven Federal Budget Climate." 

The government is currently operating under what is called a "continuing resolution." That means all federal agencies, like NIJ, must operate at last year's budgetary levels. Because we do not have a new, full fiscal-year budget, we are conducting business on mission-critical activities, but not starting any new projects.

This, of course, is a challenge — and I found the remarks of National Science Foundation director Subra Suresh at the COSSA event particularly insightful. Director Suresh said that during this time of austerity, NSF would remain focused on its core principles, including, for example, the development of human capital by building the pipeline of students from K-12 to graduate school.

At NIJ, we must do the same. Although there is no doubt that this time of fiscal austerity is a challenge, we will fulfill our mission of reducing crime and ensuring justice. One of the core principles we follow is the creative integration of our three bedrock sciences: social, forensic and physical.

As I mentioned in a recent Director's Message, one way NIJ has formalized this principle is the creation of our new Office of Research Partnerships (see Reorganization of NIJ). Three recent examples of partnerships that multiply the impact of our work and increase efficiencies in a time of austerity are:

  • In partnership with the Bureau of Justice Assistance, NIJ is replicating and evaluating Hawaii HOPE. BJA is managing the demonstration field sites while NIJ is managing the evaluation component. 
  • An action-research project - with support from the Office of Victims of Crime and the Office of Violence Against Women (OVW) — is discovering science-based solutions to the problem of untested evidence in sexual assault cases.
  • In partnership with the Bureau of Justice Statistics, NIJ is exploring the mining of publically accessible police data for statistical and research purposes; by identifying the nature and extent of the incident-level data published on police department websites, we will learn crucial organizational characteristics of departments that are using data in cutting-edge ways, which, in turn, will help us identify "hot spots" of police innovation.

Uncertainties surrounding budgetary issues make planning a research agenda a significant challenge. As the nation works to reduce the deficit, every agency will be required to sharpen its focus and establish clear priorities. NIJ will do that by translating our innovative, cutting-edge research into practices and policies the field can use to reduce crime and enhance the administration of justice.