President Trump has announced his intention to appoint a director of the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) who has no apparent experience in the field.
He’s Jeffrey H. Anderson, a former senior fellow at the conservative Hudson Institute who is described by the White House as a “constitutional scholar” and a “leader in formulating domestic policy proposals.”
Anderson is a former political science professor at the U.S. Air Force Academy. Later he directed the 2017 Project with conservative writer William Kristol, where the White House says he “advanced creative proposals, including Main Street-oriented health-care, tax, and immigration reform.”
This year, the Trump administration named him to direct the Office of Health Reform at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, where the White House said he led efforts “to reduce insurance premiums, regulatory burdens, and opioid abuse.”
The only statistical experience cited by the White House in Anderson’s background was co-creating the Anderson and Hester Computer Rankings, which boast of computing college football’s “most accurate strength of schedule ratings,” taking into account the quality of teams’ opponents.
The BJS directorship once required Senate confirmation, but Congress changed the law in 2012 and made the job a presidential appointment.
BJS, established in 1979, says its mission is “to collect, analyze, publish, and disseminate information on crime, criminal offenders, victims of crime, and the operation of justice systems at all levels of government.”
It is perhaps most well known for the annual publication of the National Crime Victimization Survey, which measures crime through interviews with Americans on whether they were victims of crime in the previous year.
The report is considered more complete than the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report because it includes the many offenses not reported to law enforcement agencies.
BJS directors under President Obama, James Lynch of the University of Maryland and William Sabol, now of Georgia State University, both were long-time criminologists and recognized experts in crime and justice statistics.
In May, under the auspices of the American Statistical Association, four former BJS directors wrote to Attorney General Jeff Sessions urging that “serious consideration” to head BJS, which operates in Sessions’ Department of Justice, “to individuals who have strong leadership, management, and scientific skills; experience with federal statistical agencies; familiarity with BJS and its products; visibility in the nation’s statistical community; ability to interact productively with Congress and senior DOJ staff; and acceptance of the National Academies’ Principles and Practices for a Federal Statistical Agency.”
The letter was signed by Lynch, Sabol, Jeffrey Sedgwick, who served as BJS director in the last three years of the George W. Bush administration and now directs the Justice Research and Statistics Association, and Lawrence Greenfeld, who headed BJS in the first five years of the Bush administration.
Anderson does not appear to have any of those qualifications.
The same four recent BJS directors wrote in May to leaders of the Senate and House Judiciary Committees arguing that the requirement for Senate confirmation for the BJS director should “be restored and that the director’s status be changed from serving at the will of the president to serving a fixed term of at least four years, staggered from the presidential election.”
The ex-directors said in their letter: “It is imperative that policy discussions about the often-contentious issues regarding crime and justice be informed by statistical data trusted by the public to be objective, valid, and reliable…”
“To ensure BJS data are viewed as objective and of highest quality, BJS must be seen as an independent statistical agency wherein data collection, analysis, and dissemination are under the sole control of the BJS.”
Ted Gest is president of Criminal Justice Journalists and Washington Bureau Chief of The Crime Report.