Committee on Public Policy

CoPP Report to the Executive Board 1998

AAA Task Force on Public Policy Report to the AAA Executive Board
January 1998


The AAA Task Force on Public Policy was established by the AAA Executive Board in January 1997 to (1) develop a framework for encouraging policy-relevant research by AAA members and (2) develop a strategy for implementing the policy frameworks and reports of and debates about policy issues in the annual meeting and AAA publications. The Task Force was established for one year, with a report of findings, conclusions and recommendations to be submitted to the AAA Executive Board in January 1998.

Responsibilities of the Task Force were to (1) identify prominent public policy issues and research conducted on them by AAA members and units; (2) consider the experience of past AAA public issue task forces, commissions and AAA Congressional Fellowship Program; (3) assess current efforts in policy relevant research conducted by AAA units and members, the breadth of issues being addressed and the types of venues in which it is now reported, debated and published; (4) consider the goals and objectives of the policy debate framework proposed in the Long-Range Plan; (5) consider the limits on AAA financial support and external funding; (6) identify means of developing debate among anthropologists and AAA members, building on existing AAA resources and programs; (7) determine ways to inform anthropologists about effective efforts with public policy makers; and (8) foster change in AAA organization by expanding policy research and debate within AAA programs and publications.

AAA President Yolanda Moses appointed five anthropologists to the Task Force: Robert Ibarra (Wisconsin-Madison), Joyce Justus (California-Santa Cruz), William Lipe (Washington State), Katherine Newman (Harvard), and Alex Stepick (Florida International). Joyce Justus was appointed Chair of the Task Force. Peggy Overbey (AAA Government Relations) staffed the Task Force.

The Task Force met on Monday, June 2, at the AAA. The Task Force considered the following issues: (1) the history of AAA's public policy efforts; (2) AAA's current public policy activities; (3) public policy endeavors reported by AAA sections; (4) the public policy goals and objectives in AAA's Long-Range Plan; (5) AAA coalition efforts and organizational memberships; (6) the Anthropology President's Group and AAA's relationship to other anthropology organizations; (7) ways to promote public policy research and debate among anthropologists; and (8) opportunities and limitations to securing financial support for AAA's public policy activities. The Task Force held a telephone conference on December 16 to prioritize the final recommendations to the Executive Board. The following report represents the outcome of Task Force deliberations and proposes recommendations to enable the AAA and anthropologists to be more effective in the public policy arena.

Concern With AAA Commitment to Public Policy

The Task Force reviewed AAA's previous public policy efforts and concluded that the AAA and anthropologists exhibit a history of ambivalence about the involvement of the Association in public policy. The ambivalence is cultural and structural in nature.

Cultural ambivalence within AAA is demonstrated in anthropologists' failure to engage in public policy issues on the one hand, and, on the other hand, anthropologists' indignation at not being consulted on policy issues perceived as being related to anthropology. A current example is President Clinton's Initiative on Race and public debate of race issues. Although anthropologists possess knowledge to better understand race and develop solutions to racial tensions, their expertise has not been sought by the White House or media, much to the expressed disappointment of anthropologists. Yet, it was not surprising that policy makers and the press neglected to associate anthropology and anthropologists with race. The discipline has been generally silent in public debates of race for more than 20 years. Importantly, anthropologists have not reached out and developed ties to policy makers and media who deal with race-related issues.

Structural ambivalence is evidenced in AAA's support of public policy efforts on one hand, and, on the other hand, financial or organizational limitations to ensuring success or accruing direct benefits of those efforts to the Association. For example, when AAA established the Congressional Fellowship Program, there was no mechanism set in place to tie the Program to AAA or anthropology. Aside from the initial selection interview, Congressional Fellows generally had no contact with AAA. Each Congressional Fellows was required only to produce a written report of his or her experience to be published, ideally, in the Anthropology Newsletter, and to present a special event on some aspect of the fellowship experience at the AAA Annual Meeting. When funding constraints forced a review of the Program, AAA determined that there were no demonstrable direct benefits to the Association and suspended the Program.

Successes On Which to Build

Despite the ambivalence of the AAA, the Task Force recognized numerous successes in AAA's public policy efforts. For instance, the Task Force identified the goal of the AAA government relations program as "getting anthropology out in the public policy arena," and that AAA had been successful in increasing anthropology's visibility in specific policy areas. For example, the government relations program was instrumental in helping to develop AAA's Response to OMB Directive 15: Race and Ethnic Standards for Federal Statistics and Administrative Reporting. This involved staffing the ad hoc committee that considered proposed revisions to Directive 15, assisting in the drafting of AAA's statement, shepherding the draft statement through AAA's review process, and disseminating AAA's Response to the Office of Management and Budget, the White House and other governmental agencies, anthropologists, professional associations, advocacy organizations, and press.

Activities of the government relations program, such as presenting testimony, participating in strategic planning and other meetings, and arranging meetings between anthropologists and policy makers have strengthened anthropology's profile in the Congress, at the White House, National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, the National Academy of Sciences National Research Council and other federal entities. For instance, health policy makers now associate AAA and anthropologists with AIDS research.

In keeping with the AAA's Long-Range Plan goal to hold public policy forums at the AAA annual meetings, the government relations program helped to organize three public policy forums at the 1997 Annual Meeting. The policy forums involved anthropologists and policy makers in discussions of affirmative action, the future of health research, and the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. The forums were well attended, and, importantly, engaged anthropologists in debate of policy issues.

AAA's Relationship to Other Organizations

The Task Force reviewed AAA's relationship to other anthropological organizations and AAA's membership in organizations that represent the broader interest of science, humanities, and behavioral and social sciences. The Task Force agreed that external ties to other organizations expands the breadth and, sometimes, the depth of AAA's public policy efforts.

Other Anthropological Organizations

The Task Force acknowledged the success of AAA's coalition efforts with other anthropological organizations. AAA's three-year coalition with the Society for Applied Anthropology (SfAA) to create the Applied Ethnography Program at the National Park Service (NPS) resulted in the establishment of the Program in six of the 10 NPS regional offices, the hiring of applied ethnographers in those offices, and the contracting of research by anthropologists (ethnographers) in the regions. Prior to the Program, NPS had only one cultural anthropologist Muriel (Miki) Crespi. At the end of the coalition effort, the Applied Ethnography Program was provided a line item appropriation of over $1 million, with additional responsibilities and funding assigned for culturally-related, Native American Graves and Repatriation Act activities. The coalition effort, spearheaded by AAA, was labor intensive and involved coordinating joint visits to Congressional staff members, joint meetings with NPS officials, drafting similar yet different Congressional testimony, and developing separate but equal briefing sheets.

Another successful AAA/SfAA joint effort, led by AAA, involved the organization of meetings between anthropologists and NIH officials to discuss anthropology's contributions to AIDS research. As a result, three anthropologists were appointed to an NIH study group to review grant proposals and AAA's Commission on AIDS Research and Education received subsequent NIH funding to convene a conference on AIDS prevention.

Recently, AAA undertook a successful joint effort in seeking increased funding for NSF and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). AAA drafted Congressional testimony, sought and received the endorsement of the testimony by the Society for American Archaeology, American Association of Physical Anthropologists, and Society for Historical Archaeology Joint Congressional testimony presented a strong, unified voice of the anthropological community. As a result of this and other support, NSF received a 5% increase in funding overall for Fiscal Year (FY) 1998. NEH, facing cuts in funding and threats of reorganization by Congress, received a $700,000 increase for FY 1998.

The Task Force viewed AAA's coalition efforts with other anthropological organizations as important for the AAA and anthropology. In particular, the Task Force found the joint venture to establish the NPS Applied Ethnography Program as a model and encouraged AAA to attempt a similar effort in instituting other federally-funded anthropology-related programs in the future.

Membership in Other Organizations

The Task Force considered AAA's membership in the Consortium of Social Science Associations (COSSA), the National Humanities Alliance (NHA), the Renewable Natural Resource Foundation (RNRF), and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Membership in these organizations extends the reach of AAA beyond anthropology to the larger science and humanities communities. As a result of membership, AAA is informed of pertinent policy issues and has the opportunity to work in coalition with other organizations on issues of common concern. Importantly, COSSA and NHA lobby on behalf the sciences and humanities for AAA and other member organizations, monitor and notify AAA and others of proposed actions that would affect the sciences and humanities for good or ill, and identify appropriate measures for AAA and others to take in these instances.

In addition, COSSA holds four Congressional breakfast briefings each year, focusing on a pressing public policy issue that would benefit from social science input. The briefings usually feature three social science speakers and are well-attended by Congressional staff. An anthropologist was among the speakers at a briefing on welfare reform.

Task Force Recommendations

The Task Force identified two roles for AAA's public policy efforts: (1) an internal role of AAA to develop public policy expertise and enhance public policy debate among anthropologists; and (2) an external role of AAA to enhance the effectiveness of AAA and anthropologists in working with policy makers and to strengthen the public profile of AAA and anthropology. The recommendations of the Task Force address both these roles.

The Task Force believed that anthropology brings a knowledge base and unique perspective to public policy issues. Public policy areas in which anthropologists have worked include the health, environment, higher education, welfare, immigration, defense, children, poverty and homelessness, substance abuse, cultural property, language rights, among others.

The Task Force was particularly concerned that AAA and anthropology would bear heavy costs if a higher profile in public policy were not developed. Some of those costs would be: greater vulnerability to cuts in federal funding; loss of a student audience, interested increasingly in public policy issues; and an even stronger negative stereotype of anthropology as the study of the exotic and irrelevant, with other disciplines, such as sociology and psychology, assuming anthropology's place in the public policy arena. The Task Force viewed AAA and anthropology's engagement in public policy as a means of sustenance and growth.

The Task Force recognized that AAA funding for public policy has been and may continue to be modest, yet the potential benefit that a strong public policy focus may bring to the AAA is great. The important factor in the Society for American Archaeology (SAA) membership growth over the last three years has been its increased activities in government affairs and public education. The growing non-academic sector now constitutes a majority of SAA's professional members, and these members are especially appreciative of SAA's public policy and public education programs. Acknowledging anthropology's continued growth in the non-academic sector and non-academic anthropologists' feelings of alienation from "mainstream" anthropology, the Task Force suggested that AAA's increased activity in government relations may assist similarly in attracting non-academic anthropologists to AAA membership and spurring anthropologists' involvement in public policy.

The Task Force recognized a growing demand for anthropology in public policy from the quantitative disciplines, and the opportunities for anthropology to participate in multi-disciplinary partnerships. Of the qualitative disciplines, anthropology would best provide the flesh to the bones of quantitative data, help policy makers better understand why certain federal programs or policies fail; and assist policy makers to design programs and policies that succeed. Public policy, also, was seen as the link to other social sciences. Yet, the Task Force agreed that AAA needs to build a structure that links public policy to its core activities and its leadership to enhance collaborative efforts, tap membership expertise in public policy, and streamline decision making.

The Task Force adopted the following recommendations for the Executive Board to approve. These recommendations were prioritized, with #1 being the first priority.

1. The Task Force recommended that AAA establish a Committee on Anthropology and Public Policy to focus attention on public policy and tap the expertise of members who have worked successfully on public policy issues. The Committee would be composed of 7 members, representing the 4 subfields of anthropology, including practicing and academic. The Committee would report directly to the AAA Executive Board.

The Task Force suggested that the Committee have two subcommittees to address (1) lobbying and government relations; and (2) public policy education or "consciousness-raising" among anthropologists and policy makers. The Task Force anticipated the formation of "task groups," convened around specific policy issues, to advise the Committee as needed. The Task Force also anticipated the development of a wider network of anthropologists with expertise in public policy who would be included in AAA's experts database (currently underway).

Given the mercurial nature of public policy issues, the Task Force stressed the importance of having a process in place whereby the Committee would be able to mobilize AAA and anthropologists to respond quickly to issues of immediate concern and short-lived duration. Following the example of AAA's Committee for Human Rights, the Task Force suggested that the Committee report directly to AAA's President on matters of urgency.

The Task Force proposed that the Committee, with the assistance of AAA staff, undertake an annual assessment of anticipated Congressional legislation or Administration initiatives for AAA to support or oppose in the coming year. This would involve the projection of relevant legislation and initiatives and proposed stance and action by AAA. The Committee would recommend support for or opposition to legislation or initiatives to the AAA Executive Board. The annual assessment would be synchronized with the schedule of Congress (i.e., done in advance of each session.)

2. The Task Force recommended that AAA expand the government relations staff to support the Committee on Anthropology and Public Policy and increase AAA's effectiveness in public policy. The Task Force saw a direct correlation between the level of AAA staff support and the effectiveness of AAA's public policy efforts and the future Committee on Anthropology and Public Policy. Currently, 1.5 persons constitute the Government Relations Department. In addition to government relations, the Department staffs the Committee for Human Rights and the Commission on AIDS Research and Education (until December 1997). The Task Force recommended the addition of 1.5 persons to the Department (i.e., another full-time anthropologist and a half-time anthropology student intern). Thus staff support for the Department would be 2 full-time and 2 half-time persons, dedicated to government relations and the Committee on Anthropology and Public Policy activities.

3. The Task Force recommended that AAA visibly highlight public policy activities, research and publications in AAA publications. The Task Force believed that anthropologists' work in public policy and anthropology's role in public policy would be accorded more recognition and legitimacy if those activities were more visible in AAA publications. The Task Force supported the publication of policy-relevant articles in AAA's flagship journal, the American Anthropologist. Although the Anthropology Newsletter (AN) includes a public policy column, "Notes From Washington," and occasional articles on policy issues or anthropologists working in policy, these items are usually inconspicuous because of their location in the AN. The Task Force proposed that public policy articles be placed on the front page of the AN in 2-3 of the 9 issues published each year. In addition to more visible placement in the AN, the Task Force suggested an additional AN column, "The Policy Corner," dedicated to reporting on the Committee on Anthropology and Public Policy, policy activities of anthropologists, and anthropologists' policy publications. The Task Force suggested that AAA's web site be used as a publication resource when more timely recognition is needed.

4. The Task Force recommended that AAA highlight public policy issues and encourage policy debate among anthropologists at AAA's Annual Meeting. The Task Force supported public policy forums and other policy-focused sessions at AAA's Annual Meeting. Public policy forums, involving anthropologists with various viewpoints on policy issues, would be informative for members, demonstrate anthropology's engagement in public policy, and help build consensus among anthropologists regarding major policy issues. These forums, also, would increase media attention at the Annual Meeting. Forums would focus on topics of immediate concern to policy makers and the media on which anthropologists possess expertise. The Committee on Anthropology and Public Policy would work with the AAA Annual Meeting Program Committee chair in identifying forum topics and participants.

5. The Task Force recommended that AAA encourage and assist anthropologists to publish articles in public policy journals and newspapers, such as Foreign Affairs, Brookings Review, Chronicle of Higher Education, Change, New Republic, Atlantic Monthly, National Journal, The Nation, Black Issues in Higher Education, and Hispanic Outlook In Higher Education. These public policy publications, among others, are recognized as respected sources of information and are read regularly by policy makers and the media. Significant rewards are accorded the authors who publish in public policy journals and newspapers. Following publication, authors are recognized as experts on the policy issues they address. As such, these authors are often sought as witnesses for Congressional hearings, advisers to White House or federal agency staff, speakers on public policy TV shows like the Jim Lehrer Newshour, and experts by the press.

The Task Force recognized that training and knowledge on how to write for public policy publications, like that required for writing for media and public, would be helpful to anthropologists. Articles in the AN as well as Annual Meeting workshops were considered possible means of training anthropologists to write for public policy publications. The Committee on Anthropology and Public Policy would assist in organizing workshops and identifying anthropologists or policy makers to write articles in the AN.

6. The Task Force recommended that AAA take proactive steps to be come a more effective player in COSSA and evaluate its membership in other organizations to ensure that AAA's interests and concerns remain served. Because of the associated cost of AAA's membership in COSSA, AAA's Finance Committee has questioned the return for anthropology and the AAA. The Task Force suggested that AAA representatives be more active at COSSA meetings and assist in developing common initiatives. The Committee on Anthropology and Public Policy and staff would help AAA representatives in preparing and planning for COSSA meetings and in developing policy initiatives. AAA would work more closely with COSSA in determining Congressional breakfast topics and nominating anthropologist speakers.

7. The Task Force suggested that AAA consider reviving and improving the Congressional Fellowship Program and also consider the feasibility of instituting a Federal Internship Program. AAA's Congressional Fellowship Program, established in 1977 and suspended in 1994, provided a direct policy-making experience for anthropologists. Fellows acquired expertise in specific public policy areas, verbal and written skills, presentation styles, and experienced public policy "culture." Fellows also established a network of policy contacts during the course of their term in Congress.

The Task Force proposed that a revived Congressional Fellowship Program be improved so that AAA accrues more benefits from the Program. Some means of doing so would be to expect Congressional Fellows, upon completion of the Fellowship, to serve on the Committee on Anthropology and Public Policy or a Committee task group, organize a public policy forum at AAA's Annual Meeting, submit an article for publication in a public policy journal or newspaper, hold a public policy training workshop, or write an article on how anthropologists may be more effective in working with policymakers for the AN.

The Task Force recognized that the costs of sponsoring and administering one Congressional Fellowship per year, estimated at around $40,000 per year, may be too expensive for AAA to fund fully from general revenues and suggested that AAA consider securing funding from external sources. External sources to consider include the Ford Foundation, the Casey Foundation, and other national educational organizations.

The goal of a Federal Internship Program would be to place one or more anthropologists in a federal agency for a short period of time. The internship would be funded by the agency. AAA would bear administrative costs of identifying internships and notifying potential interns. The success of the internship would rely on the relevance and availability of internships and the reliability of having anthropologists to fill them.

AAA Task Force on Public Policy

Joyce Justus, Chair
Robert Ibarra
William Lipe
Katherine Newman
Alex Stepick

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