Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Big News! Federal race & ethnicity collection standards have CHANGED

Federal Race and Ethnicity Collection Standards Have Changed

Check it out!

There are a lot to read about in the newly revised OMB Statistical Policy Directive No. 15: Standards for Maintaining, Collecting, and Presenting Federal Data on Race and Ethinicity, published 3-29-2024. 

Federal Register citation is 89 FR 22182. There are several key revisions but one of the most important is the inclusion of Middle Eastern or North African (MENA) as a race.

How do you think about this change?

This revision has received over 1800 public comments. If you are interested in reading those comments and need assistance with finding and accessing the information, email govhelp@rice.edu or visit Kelley Center informaiton desk for help.

Monday, April 15, 2024

National Parks Week


Grand Tetons National Park/Photo by Nate Foong on Unsplash


That’s number of National Parks in the United States.  These include national seashores, historical sites, and recreation areas.  To celebrate them, the National Parks Service, part of the Department of the Interior, is devoting April 20th through April 28th as National Park Week.

To kick off the week of celebration, and to showcase the variety and grandeur of our National Park system, April 20th is a day of no entrance fee into any of the parks.  (The NPS offers six days in the year with no entrance fees.)

Each day of National Parks Week has a different theme:

Saturday, April 20: Discovery. What will you discover? A new place, a new interesting fact, a new activity... To kick off National Park Week and encourage you make that new discovery, entrance fees are waived on April 20!

Sunday, April 21: Volunteers. Use your time and talents as a volunteer in your national parks. Find opportunities to volunteer for a single event or long term position.

Monday, April 22: Earth Day. Join the global celebration encouraging education and stewardship of the planet's natural resources. Many parks are hosting volunteer events. You can also find ways to practice conservation at home.

Tuesday, April 23: Innovation. History of our nation's innovation is preserved in national parks. Also learn about the innovative projects happening in parks or through our programs today.

Wednesday, April 24: Workforce Wednesday. Meet our incredible workforce of employees, interns, fellows, volunteers, contractors, partners, and more. Consider joining our team!

Thursday, April 25: Youth Engagement. Calling the rising generation of stewards! Learn about the opportunities for youth and young adults to get involved and see what your peers are up to.

Friday, April 26: Community Connections. Learn about the important work our programs and partners are doing in communities across the country both within and outside of our park boundaries.

Saturday, April 27: Junior Ranger Day. For kids (and kids at heart), become a Junior Ranger through in-person or online activities to learn about special places or topics. You may even earn a Junior Ranger badge!

Sunday, April 28: Arts in Parks. Home of many arts past and present, find your muse creating arts within parks. Also learn about preserving and practicing arts in your communities through the work of our programs and partners.

13 of these National Parks are in Texas.  They are Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument in Fritch, Amistad National Recreation Area in Del Rio, Big Bend National Park in the big bend of the Rio Grande near Alpine, Big Thicket National Preserve in Beaumont, Blackwell School National Historic Site at Fort Davis, Butterfield Overland Historic Trail that covers Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California, Chamizal National Memorial in El Paso, El Camino Real de los Tejas National Historic Trail in Texas and Louisiana, El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro National Historic Trail in Texas and New Mexico, Fort Davis National Historic Site in Fort Davis, Guadalupe Mountains National Park in Salt Flat, Lake Meredith National Recreation Area in Fritch, Lyndon B Johnson National Historical Park in Johnson City, Padre Island National Seashore in Corpus Christi, Palo Alto Battlefield National Historical Park in Brownsville, Rio Grande Wild and Scenic River in Southwest Texas, San Antonio Missions National Historical Park in San Antonio, and Waco Mammoth National Monument in Waco. 



Big Bend National Park/Photo by Caleb Fisher on Unsplash

Thursday, April 11, 2024

Do You Have the Time?

Time stands still for no one.  Nor is it ever the same.  Because time varies so much on Earth, UTC, or Coordinated Universal Time, was defined as time at mean sea level.  UTC is only a theoretical ideal.  To realize it, International Atomic Time (TAI) weighs the average of hundreds of atomic clocks around the world.  UTC must periodically insert “leap seconds” to keep it aligned with Earth solar days since the rate of the Earth’s rotation changes, and solar days are not always the same. 

As if that isn’t complicated enough, measurement of Time in space differs depending on where you are.  The experience of time is slower where there is more gravity, so a second is longer on Earth than it is on the Moon.  It also is different from both these places if someone is moving through space at a high rate of speed. 

Since many governments, including the United States, and commercial entities are interested in returning to the Moon and establishing a presence there, as well as using it as a stopping point for going to Mars, there needs to be a standard measurement of time in space, specifically in cislunar space (i.e. the space lying between and the Earth and the Moon including the Moon’s orbit).  The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) has released a directive for NASA and the Departments of Commerce, Defense, State, and Transportation to establish and be ready to implement a unified time standard -- Coordinated Lunar Time (LTC) – by December 31, 2026.  NASA will also coordinate with the countries who have signed the ArtemisAccords. Time standardization is necessary for safety purposes, as well as economic development and international collaboration.  According to the OSTP policy memorandum:

“The approach to establish time standards consists of the definition, development, and implementation of a distinct reference time at each celestial body and its surrounding space environment. Each new time standard developed will include the following features:

1. Traceability to Coordinated Universal Time (UTC);

2. Accuracy sufficient to support precision navigation and science;

3. Resilience to loss of contact with Earth; and

4. Scalability to space environments beyond the Earth-Moon system

Federal agencies will develop celestial time standardization with an initial focus on the lunar surface and missions operating in Cislunar space, with sufficient traceability to support missions to other celestial bodies.”

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy was created by the National Science and Technology Policy, Organization, andPriorities Act of 1976.  The OSTP heads the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) and its Subcommittee on Cislunar Science & Technology.  The Subcommittee developed the National Cislunar Science and Technology Strategy on which the new policy memorandum builds. 

White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Releases Celestial Time Standardization Policy

Thursday, March 28, 2024

It's Complicated: Modernization Requires Legal Statute(s)

On March 20, 2024 the Modernization Subcommittee of the Committee on House Administration of the U.S. House of Representatives held a hearing entitled "Legislative Proposals to Support Modernizing the Congressional Research Service and the Use of Federal Data.” 

The Congressional Research Service, or CRS, serves as nonpartisan shared staff to congressional committees and Members of Congress. Since 1914, CRS has existed by law as a department of the Library of Congress and works directly for Congress. CRS gathers, synthesizes, and analyzes information and data to assist in the formation and enaction of legislation – from earliest bill drafting through oversight of implementation. The CRS approaches complex topics and policy issues with meticulous and comprehensive research, expert and diversified resources, confidential consultation, and a nonpartisan mindset. The statute empowering the CRS was last updated in 1970. 

Much of the information in CRS reports relies on data from the various Federal agencies which are under the authority of the Executive Branch of the government. Federal agencies are required by law to comply with a request for information by the CRS when the request has been authorized by a Congressional committee. 

The first bill before the subcommittee was a CRS request to be freed from the legal requirement to publish a print edition of the Constitution of the United States Analysis and Interpretation, also called Constitution Annotated or CONAN. In 1970 Congress passed a law requiring CRS to publish every 10 years annotations of all cases decided by the Supreme Court up to that date, with biennial cumulative updates. (Previous annotations had been published but not at regular intervals.) The last published edition cost $1 million to produce. However, since 2019, CRS has also maintained the Constitution Annotated website which is updated much more frequently. Eliminating the print edition of CONAN would free up time, personnel, and financial resources for the CRS. 

A second bill discussed in the subcommittee hearing addresses the need for CRS to have access to data produced by federal agencies. Although federal agencies must comply with a CRS request for information authorized by a committee, they do not have to legally comply with requests authorized by an individual member of Congress. This bill would also allow CRS on its own to request information when they anticipate a need for information. 

Other elements of modernization CRS is exploring at this time are presentation and use of data (use of visualizations, data dashboards, cloud based solutions, etc.) in their reports and implementation of AI.

To see the opening remarks of Mr. Robert Randolph Newlen, Interim Director, Congressional Research Service click here.

To see the opening remarks of witnesses (Ms. Elise Bean, Director, Washington Office, Carl Levin Center for Oversight & Democracy, Dr. Matthew Glassman, Senior Fellow, Government Affairs Institute, Georgetown University, and Dr. Nicholas Hart, President & CEO, Data Foundation) in support of the second bill click here.  


Monday, March 18, 2024

Junk Fees to be Scrapped

Everyone – students, families, Democrats, Republicans, Representatives, Senators, the President, even universities and colleges themselves – agree that higher education is too expensive.  Both the legislative and executive branches have pledged to implement policies that lower those costs.  Last Thursday, theBiden-Harris Administration announced their plans to help in this area with strategies to “crack down on junk fees.”  These junk fees include non-refunded meal account funds, bank fees associated with using a college-sponsored credit card or banking account, automatic charges for textbooks and supplies included in tuition, and finance charges for taking out a student loan.

Colleges and universities often partner with banks for disbursement of financial aid through credit or debit cards.  Unfortunately, many of these bank cards include excessive and/or hidden fees that can cost students significantly.  Problems with these fees have recently been reported to Congress by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and were reported by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) as far back as 2014. 

Another, often hidden, fee students and parents incur is the loan origination fee.  This administrative fee can be from 1 to 4 percent of the amount of the loan and is frequently added to the loan amount and, therefore, continuously incurs interest throughout the life of the loan.  According to the Biden-Harris Administration “These fees are a relic of an era when the government compensated private lenders to issue these loans.  Today, this fee is nothing more than a tax imposed on students by the government, costing consumers more than $1 billion annually.” 

Colleges and universities are not on board with all the Administration’s plans, however.  For instance, universities would now be required to return all unused “flex dollars” in the students’ meal plan accounts.  Moreover, students would have to opt-in to include textbook fees into their tuition charges.  The Administration and the Department of Education say this will allow students to be aware of what prices they pay for textbooks and allow them to find cheaper sources for materials.  Universities contend that this will impede their ability to provide students with materials at below market prices on the first day of class. 

These announced strategies build upon regulations released in late 2023 which include investing in the Open Textbooks Pilot Program to lower textbook costs, requiring universities to adhere to more stringent requirements of transparency on all college costs, requiring universities when they act as lenders to adhere to federal consumer financial protection laws, and preventing colleges from withholding transcripts of courses paid for with federal money. 

Monday, March 11, 2024

While not quite ready to rival McDonalds' number of hamburgers sold yet

the Office of Information Policy did recently announce that in 2023 the 120 federal government agencies combined processed over one million Freedom of Information Act requests. 

This number of requests is nearly 30% higher than in 2022 and indicates a continuing trend of growing demand for government information. 

All data on information requests is held at FOIA.gov which since 2011 has been the dashboard for reporting by government agencies on statistics concerning FOIA requests. Reporting FOIA statistics is required by law; each agency must submit a report to the Attorney General annually. Since these reports are all published on FOIA.gov, the public can retrieve historical data as well as compile comparative data among agencies. There is no central agency for receiving and processing FOIA requests, but FOIA.gov is the central arena for agencies to submit their reports. 

The Freedom of Information Act was first passed by Congress in 1966 and last amended in 2016. It gives any member of the public the right to request information from any federal agency. There are nine exemptions to agencies’ required response based on personal privacy, national security, and law enforcement. Agencies are required to report partial information on requested topics when they can. The Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) helps resolve disputes between requesters of information and government agencies who say they cannot disclose the information requested. The Office of Information Policy within the Department of Justice is responsible for guidance to the government agencies on FOIA.

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Soldiers of the Houston Riot of 1917 Finally Receive Some Justice

On February 22, 2024, the Veterans Administration held a memorial service for 17 of the 19 Black soldiers unjustly court martialed and executed in the “largest mass execution of American Soldiers by the U.S. Army” following the Houston Riot of 1917. The soldiers are buried in Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in San Antonio. Their graves were also dedicated with new headstones including names, state, rank, unit, date of death, indicating that they were honorably discharged. An interpretive sign was also placed at the gravesite telling the story of these men, and the 110 soldiers of the 3rd Battalion, 24th Infantry Regiment (also known as the Buffalo Soldiers) convicted of murder and mutiny following the riots. 

In July 1917, Camp Logan was established, in the area now known as Memorial Park, as a training ground for soldiers following the U.S. entering World War I. The all-Black 3rd Battalion, 24th Infantry Regiment was sent to guard the camp. Tensions between the soldiers, many Northerners unfamiliar with Jim Crow laws of segregation, and the all-White Houston Police Department soon ran high. On August 23rd, Private Alonzo Edwards attempted to aid a Black woman, Sara Travers, being harassed by the police. Edwards was beaten and arrested. When Corporal Charles Baltimore went to inquire about Edwards, he too was beaten and shot at while he ran away. Rumors reached camp that Baltimore had been killed. Although Baltimore was eventually found to be alive, more rumors flew of an angry white mob approaching the camp. Fear and desire for retaliation inspired soldiers to arm themselves and march toward downtown Houston. By the end of the dark, rainy night, 19 were dead (four soldiers and fifteen white civilians and police officers). 

118 soldiers were tried by the Army for mutiny and murder in a process that historians state was “characterized by numerous irregularities” including poor representation and unreliable witnesses. The Army quickly began to realize problems with the convictions. Because “the first set of executions occurred in secrecy and within a day of sentencing,” the Army immediately changed regulations so that any future executions following court martial requires a review by the War Department and the President. Ten soldiers sentenced to death were pardoned. But it wasn’t until 2022 that an investigation was opened by the Army to review the process of the trials. 

On November 13, 2023, the Army set aside all court martial convictions of the soldiers involved in the riots. Their records were corrected, their military service was designated honorable, and the entitlement to benefits by their relatives were reinstated. Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth stated "After a thorough review, the Board has found that these Soldiers were wrongly treated because of their race and were not given fair trials. By setting aside their convictions and granting honorable discharges, the Army is acknowledging past mistakes and setting the record straight." According to Stars and Stripes “As part of the closing of [the November] ceremony, Army Brig. Gen. Ronald Sullivan read to the audience the words that will be added to the sign at Fort Sam Houston. ‘The Army viewed the cases in 2023 and determined the widespread racism and tension that triggered the 1917 Houston Riot pervaded the trials for these soldiers, making their trials unfair,’ he read. ‘The Secretary of the Army set aside all convictions and directed the soldiers’ records reflect honorable discharges.’” In December 2023, The Houston Chronicle apologized for its editorials at the time.