Governmental research, as it is performed by the many organizations across the United States that engage in it, has two basic functions:
If you were to ask several individuals familiar with governmental research to name the single most distinguishing attribute of governmental research organization, they would probably agree on one: credibility. Credibility doesn’t come easily or quickly. It is earned over a long period of time by adherence to three paramount principles.
Governmental research reports must be accurate in the smallest detail. Figures are checked and rechecked, charts reviewed, statements verified, and conclusions challenged to sure that each fact can be supported, and each conclusion and recommendation defended. Governmental researchers know that one small error, however trivial, can cast doubt on an otherwise well-researched report. As a result, the goal of governmental researchers is to develop facts and conclusions whose accuracy is beyond challenge.
Governmental research reports must be fair. This does not mean that they cannot come to conclusions — even strong conclusions. But those conclusions must be supportable and must take into account others that are possible, even though they may be entirely opposite. Moreover, the conclusions of governmental research reports flow from the facts developed in the research, not the other way around. Governmental research organizations do not select or tailor facts to fit preordained conclusions. If the facts don’t support a conclusion or recommendation, it isn’t made.
Perhaps the most important aspect of credibility for a governmental research organization is its independence. It is also probably the most difficult to maintain. In a world of interest-group politics and paid consultants, it is often difficult to convince anyone that there actually are organizations that exist to take the point of view of the citizen in public affairs. Skeptics continually seek to find hidden motives in the work of governmental research organizations, to prove that the agency really represents this interest or that group of contributors. But when a definitive, reliable answer to a question or problem of public policy is sought; when policymakers conclude that a truly unbiased, nonpartisan, independent judgement is needed, it is then that they turn to the governmental research organization, secure in the knowledge that, although they may not like the answer, it will have been arrived at honestly and openly.
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