Progress Report: NIJ's Response to "Strengthening the National Institute of Justice"

Message from NIJ Director John Laub in response to the report Strengthening the National Institute of Justice by the Committee on Assessing the Research Program of the National Institute of Justice at the National Research Council

November 2010

I read the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) report on the National Institute of Justice when it was first released (just before I was sworn in as Director of NIJ). It is clear from the report — and fully recognized by NIJ — that the status quo is no longer acceptable. In my second week as director, I began engaging all levels of staff in discussions about the NAS report. Because I believe that a crucial component of change is "process," I want to briefly explain the process I have been going through as NIJ prepares to respond to the NAS recommendations.

Over the past weeks, I have held a number of 90-minute meetings with my executive staff to talk about the five NAS recommendations. Parallel to this, I have met every week with the working staff. Although I asked that each of NIJ's sub-units to send a representative to these meetings, they have been open to all staff, except the executive staff. I have been impressed and heartened by the response: at the first meeting, for example, there were 23 people, about 40 percent of NIJ's non-executive staff.

In order to have transformative change at NIJ, I believe that everyone, at all levels, must be fully engaged in the process. Both executive and non-executive staff prepared summaries of our discussions. These summaries have been circulated throughout the agency. Currently, I am holding open meetings to further discuss, debate and formulate NIJ's response to the NAS recommendations.

I expect that many of the recommendations will be enthusiastically supported, in their entirety, by NIJ. Some specific aspects of some recommendations will undoubtedly warrant further discussion. One of these, for example, concerns the "independence" of the agency; some people believe that NIJ should not be located within the Office of Justice Programs. And within the agency itself, new ways to achieve greater independence and scientific integrity may need to be institutionalized. For example, we are undergoing an extensive examination of the peer review process. Another issue being debated is NIJ's involvement in the task of "capacity-building," which generally refers to enhancing the efficiency and productivity of the nation's crime labs: Should NIJ be doing capacity building or not? Is it part of the agency's core mission?

As we have been working on our response to the NAS report, I have been encouraging everyone at NIJ to go beyond a "response." I want to use the report as leverage for us to talk about NIJ, to use it as a license to sit down and talk about the mission of the NIJ and what NIJ should be.

In the coming weeks, I will be issuing regular progress reports. We are moving rapidly but judiciously in coming to a formal response.

Date Created: November 7, 2010