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The Dynamics of Disability: Measuring and Monitoring Disability for Social Security Programs
tion, investigator-initiated grants were peer reviewed and awarded. The funding of this research grant program has been erratic, with no funds allocated to the program during the past three decades.
Peer-reviewed extramural research programs have proved highly successful in the field of health services and clinical research. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Service (formerly the Health Care and Financing Administration), the Agency for Health Care Research and Quality, the National Institutes of Health, and the National Science Foundation have developed highly successful and sophisticated systems for review of investigator-initiated research in a wide variety of health areas. A similar, strong program is needed in the social insurance area and should be operated and managed by high-level qualified professional staff in ORES.
Recommendation 7-2: The committee recommends that the Social Security Administration (SSA) expand and diversify its extramural research program to include a balance of contracts, cooperative agreements, and investigator-initiated grants. This broadened research program would prepare SSA for the anticipated growth in the demands on the disability programs and help bring about the needed fundamental changes in its disability programs.
The committee notes, however, that although the grant authority has been unfunded in recent years, SSA has taken some steps in that direction by awarding cooperative agreements. Lacking adequate infrastructure at this time to operate an effective grant program, cooperative agreements with less demanding infrastructure could begin to serve some of the purposes similar to investigator-initiated research. Two such large agreements are the Disability Research Institute described earlier and the Retirement Research Consortium (RRC). These consortia draw researchers from several universities together. Their main goals are to foster research and evaluations, dissemination of information on retirement, and other SSA-related social policy including disability policy, training and education, and facilitating the use of SSA’s administrative data by outside researchers. To meet these goals, the centers perform many activities including research projects, policy briefs and working papers, annual conferences, and training. The RRC currently is composed of two, university-based, multidisciplinary centers, administratively based at Boston College and the University of Michigan.
SSA should view the ability to fund intramural research, external research—contracts, cooperative agreements, and grants—as separate tools to improve the functioning of the agency. Each can offer SSA leadership unique ways to learn of causes of external social and economic phe-