IES Reauthorization Bill, Reducing NCES’s Autonomy, Advances in Senate

September 2014

This week, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) approved the Strengthening Education through Research Act (SETRA), which in reauthorizing the Institute of Education Sciences (IES), severely erodes the autonomy and efficacy of the National Center for Education Statistics. The House of Representatives passed a nearly identical version of the bill on a voice vote in May.

The Senate version of SETRA retains the original House language that shifts responsibility for appointing the NCES Commissioner from the president to the IES Director.

Following the Senate HELP committee vote, AERA Executive Directive Felice J. Levine released the following statement:

We appreciate that the Senate HELP Committee today approved SETRA in seeking to ensure passage of a reauthorization act for IES. Such reauthorization is long overdue. Unfortunately, in its desire to clear this bill before recessing for the elections, Congress missed an opportunity to strengthen the autonomy of National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) and protect the integrity of the data it produces. We see every day how essential it is to have an agency monitor the health of our education system, with independent responsibility and accountability. This bill further reduces the efficacy and autonomy of NCES, in particular by not ensuring that the Commissioner is presidentially appointed and Senate confirmed, with sign off authority for reports.

We look to the new directive pending at OMB to promote the basic principles for a statistical agency and anticipate that they will be fully embraced by the U.S. Department of Education. Meanwhile, we hope at a future point that Congress will return to the issue of NCES reauthorization and make those changes essential to ensuring its vitality and integrity.

Over the last several months, AERA and the American Statistical Association (ASA) have led a wide ranging group of scientific associations and coalitional partners seeking to ensure that NCES was not further reduced in independence and efficacy through Senate passage of SETRA.

There is wide consensus in the statistics, data, and research communities that NCES as a lead statistical agency needs to meet the principles of operation recommended for such entities and that the role of the Commissioner needs to be restored in its authority and responsibility. 

In addition to AERA and ASA, the other coalitional partners included:

  • American Psychological Association
  • American Sociological Association
  • Association of Population Centers
  • Association of Public Data Users
  • Consortium of Social Science Associations
  • Council of Professional Associations on Federal Statistics
  • Federation of Associations in Behavioral & Brain Sciences
  • Population Association of America
  • Society for Research in Child Development

The position of this group was formally advanced in a letter dated July 9, 2014 to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP).  It is in accord with the longstanding guidance of the National Academies (Principles and Practices for a Federal Statistical Agency) and also with the direct guidance of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) set forth in the OMB Statistical Policy Directive: Fundamental Responsibilities of Federal Statistical Agencies and Recognized Statistical Units (OMB Policy Directive No. 1, pending).  

Further, the two most recent NCES Commissioners (Mark Schneider who served in the Bush administration and Jack Buckley who served as Deputy Commissioner in the Bush administration and Commissioner in the Obama administration) expressed substantial concerns about the further erosion of NCES under SETRA. Both wrote directly to the HELP Committee.

SETRA is expected to be voted on by the full Senate. 

Related news coverage:

- “Bill Targets U.S. Education Research,” Inside Higher Ed, September 18, 2014
- “So, What Exactly Would Change in Federal Education Research Under the Senate Bill?” Education Week, September 18, 2014
- “Senate Research Bill Mostly Sticks to House Language,” Politico Pro, September 18, 2014 (subscription required)
- “AERA and Partners Urge Senate to Restore NCES Stature,” AERA Highlights, August 2014