Data on criminal justice in the United States is notoriously spotty, making it a source of anguish for many criminologists, policymakers, reformers, and journalists.
One of the few sources for national data is the Bureau of Justice Statistics, a federal agency that carries out a massive crime survey each year and publishes everything from a detailed annual breakdown of the number of prisoners in the US to information on state prosecutors’ caseloads. Under the Trump administration, the agency will be led by a man who has no apparent qualifications in criminal justice, and whose seemingly only significant experience in statistics is creating a controversial college-football rating system.
Jeffrey H. Anderson was appointed on Nov. 21, and his thin criminal justice bio was first reported by The Crime Report, which is housed at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Asked by Quartz for comment, Anderson declined. He comes to the bureau from the Office of Health Reform at the US Department of Health and Human Services, where he was appointed director earlier this year. Anderson is longtime anti-Obamacare crusader, and has frequently written about the topic as a prolific columnist in conservative media.
He had also occasionally written about criminal justice, under headlines such as “Why Trump Should Oppose ‘Criminal-Justice Reform,’” lambasting fellow conservatives for joining forces with Democrats on sentencing reform. That appears to be the extent of his experience in the field.
The White House announcement of his appointment called Anderson a “constitutional scholar” and “a leader in formulating domestic policy proposals.” He was a professor of political science at the US Air Force Academy and holds a PhD in political science from Claremont College, where he wrote his thesis on the opposition to judicial policymaking in the early US. In recent years, he ventured into the political arena, serving as a fellow at the conservative think tank The Hudson Institute, and starting his own political organization “Project 2017,” that works to push a “conservative reform agenda.”
The White House bio also prominently features his creation of the Anderson and Hester Computer Rankings.
The rankings, which Anderson created with his college roommate in 1992, were part of the Bowl Championship Series (BCS), a selection mechanism for matching up for end-of-year games top US college football teams. The system was so controversial, accused of, among others, discriminating against smaller schools, that Wired called it the “most hated college-football entity in the United States.”
The BJS has a crucial role in criminal justice research and policymaking. The position of its leader used to require a Senate confirmation, but since 2012 it only needs a presidential appointment. Earlier this year, top US criminologists asked Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions in an open letter to “keep science in the Department of Justice,” and to find “bona fide research scientists with knowledge of crime and justice” to appoint as leaders of the BJS and its sister agency the National Institute of Justice.
A prominent criminologist thinks Anderson doesn’t fit this bill:
Another letter, from Anderson’s two immediate predecessors at the bureau, pleaded that Sessions choose a leader who has “experience with federal statistical agencies; familiarity with BJS and its products; visibility in the nation’s statistical community.”
His predecessors’ biographies could not be more different from Anderson’s. When William Sabol was appointed head of the agency in 2014, he had more than two decades of experience in criminal justice and statistical methods, and nearly a decade’s tenure at BJS. James P. Lynch, who served before him, had three decades of experience specifically in crime statistics.