special topic reports developed and released periodically on the website. However, when the public has interest in specific topics for which no regular NCVS report exists (for example, trends in rural victimization1), it is often beyond people’s expertise to use the survey data or even to determine whether they can compile this information themselves. This problem can be addressed by using an advisory committee charged with providing BJS with information about public interest in specific kinds of NCVS reports; improving the organization of the victimization component of the BJS website so that it is clear what NCVS reports are available and what requires special analyses; and expanding the number of trend charts and spreadsheets to include compilations of interest to the public.
Any federal statistical agency must constantly strive to maintain clear communications with its users and with the best technical minds in the country relative to its data. While BJS some years ago took the initiative to stimulate the creation of the American Statistical Association’s (ASA) Committee on Law and Justice Statistics, the committee is not a formal advisory committee to BJS. This means that the meetings are not public, the recommendations of the committee have no real formal documentation, and the agency does not consistently turn to the committee for key problems facing it. Furthermore, the committee consists exclusively of ASA members, who may or may not have all the expertise needed to advise BJS. A formal advisory committee has both the benefits and costs of Federal Advisory Committee Act oversight, yet it would address many of the issues cited above. Most other federal statistical agencies actively use their advisory committees (e.g., the National Center for Health Statistics, the Census Bureau, the Bureau of Labor Statistics) to seek technical input into critical challenges. This is especially true now because of the growing pressures on survey budgets arising from declining U.S. response rates.
A formal advisory committee should have membership that is appointed for its expertise. It should have experts in criminology, law enforcement, judicial processes, and incarceration. It should include state and local area experts. This expertise in the substance of the statistics should be supplemented with expertise in the methods of designing, collecting, and analyzing statistical data.
Recommendation 5.1: BJS should establish a scientific advisory board for the agency’s programs; a particular focus should be on maintaining and enhancing the utility of the NCVS.