The Retirement Research Consortium: Past, Present, and Future

Article excerpt

Selected Abbreviations

DI Disability Insurance

ORES Office of Research, Evaluation, and Statistics

RRC Retirement Research Consortium

SSA Social Security Administration

SSI Supplemental Security Income

Introduction

"Research doesn't tell the policymaker what to do. It does give him [or her] a body of tested knowledge and an understanding of the probable consequences of alternative policy decisions. It takes strong and open-minded leadership to accept, publish and use research findings."

Ida C. Merriam (1985), former assistant commissioner of the Social Security Administration's (SSA's) Office of Research and Statistics, wrote those words in a Social Security Bulletin article commemorating the agency's research efforts at its 50th anniversary. Since its inception nearly 75 years ago, SSA has worked to produce high quality, research-based information required to formulate policy that will meet the changing needs of the public. In 1998, Steven H. Sandell, then director of SSA's Division of Policy Evaluation, spearheaded the creation of the Retirement Research Consortium (RRC) to broaden SSA's research capabilities and help to produce a new generation of highly trained social scientists to shape the future direction of policy research. Through the RRC, SSA has access to a large group of world-class researchers in the fields of Social Security and retirement policy who are affiliated with the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, the National Bureau of Economic Research Retirement Research Center, and the University of Michigan Retirement Research Center.

By all accounts, the RRC has been a remarkably successful extramural research venture of SSA. Through its first 11 years, the RRC produced hundreds of research papers, policy briefs, and newsletters; organized 11 annual conferences and a number of seminars and workshops on special topics; and supported over 100 training grants to graduate students and junior scholars. Perhaps more importantly, RRC research and researchers have been influential in the national policy debate on a number Social Security and retirement policy issues.

A series of articles in this issue of the Bulletin commemorate the research and policy accomplishments of the three centers of the RRC. Each of the following three articles, one by each center of the RRC, highlight that particular center's contributions to research and policymaking on Social Security and retirement. In this introductory article, we provide an overview of the RRC from SSA's perspective, a brief history of its development, a discussion of the aims of the consortium, and some thoughts on its future.

A Brief History of the RRC

The roots of the RRC can be traced back to the 1990s and the expansion of SSA's research capacity. SSA's Office of Research and Statistics had long been responsible for most of the agency's research program; however, staffing levels had declined over the 1970s and 1980s. When SSA became an independent agency in 1995, the Office of Research and Statistics became the Office of Research, Evaluation, and Statistics (ORES) with the addition of the Division of Policy Evaluation, under the leadership of Steven H. Sandell. Around the same time, an outside review team found that the office "consistently produces good quality research and sound statistics. It is the scope and the timeliness, not the quality of the research that is of concern" (Estes, Linkins, and Rice 1997, 10). The Social Security Advisory Board issued a report urging SSA to enhance its internal and external research and policy evaluation capacity, including among other things "providing financial support for research centers at universities or other research institutions" (Social Security Advisory Board 1998, 12).

After Kenneth S. Apfel was sworn in as the first confirmed commissioner of SSA as an independent agency, he released in September 1997 SSA's new strategic plan. …