Abt Associates is a for-profit research firm founded by Clark Abt that contracts for governments and private entities. The firm grew contracts for federal and state governments on domestic research and project management in education, housing and homelessness, health care economics, environmental issues, workforce training, and criminal justice. Abt has received grants for research from left-wing nonprofits and foundations, most prominently the Open Society Foundations funded by George Soros and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
In 2015, Abt acquired Stratus Consulting, an environmental consulting firm with a history of dishonesty and overestimating the costs of environmental damages against oil companies Chevron and Exxon. Abt played down the results of its own research when it showed the Head Start program to be largely ineffective. Abt Associates at least flirts with a conflict of interest when it lobbies Congress about the issues for which it contracts with the federal government to evaluate and manage projects. The Climate Economic Analysis for Development, Investment, and Resilience (CEADIR) program it manages for USAID uses U.S. taxpayer dollars to partially guarantee loans made by banks in Central America, Bangladesh, and East and West Africa to green energy companies in those regions. Abt Associates has allowed its concern about man-made climate change and other environmental issues to overly influence its management of projects at best tenuously connected to the environment both in Mexico and the South Pacific.
Clark Abt started Abt Associates in 1965. The company has been a contractor from the beginning: Its first projects included government contracts for developing educational games for elementary students and computer simulations for military planning.
Abt Associates grew substantially with the federal government as a major client. Among the federally funded domestic projects was the 1972 Housing Allowance Demand Study commissioned by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which was used to develop the Section 8 housing voucher program. Abt Associates completed the 1974 National Day Care Costs and Effects Study on child-teacher ratios in day cares.
The company also performed environmental studies beginning in 1987 for the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Office of Water, a 1993 study for the Justice Department on the racial disparities in federal drug crime sentencing, a 1996 evaluation of welfare-to-work programs, a 1999 national immunization survey for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and a 2004 study for the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases on behavioral intervention efforts on gay men in preventing the spread of HIV.
Abt Associates also completed several Annual Homelessness Assessment Reports for HUD beginning in 2006, a series of studies for the CDC on possible connections between vaccines and autism beginning in 2007, and a 2008 assessment of the National Healthy Start Program for the Maternal and Child Health Bureau. In 2010, it completed a study for HUD indicating billions of dollars were needed to repair U.S. public housing.
The federal government also contracts with Abt Associates to manage and evaluate foreign aid projects. In 1983, Abt contracted with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to manage an agricultural project in Honduras. It managed 50 more projects for USAID over the next 15 years. In 2003, it won a contract to restore Iraq’s health care system. In 2005, it received more than $6 million to manage and consult on AIDS-related projects in Africa, Vietnam, and the Caribbean.
In recent years, Abt Associates has continued to do contract work for the federal domestic programs. It operates the Federal Justice Statistics Program for the Bureau of Justice Statistics It evaluates HUD programs. In 2018, it performed a study for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services about the use of telemedicine to combat fatigue in doctors monitoring intensive care units. It performs evaluations about the quality of apprenticeship and other workforce training programs for the Department of Labor. Abt Associates also provides research in support of clean water litigation by the Department of Justice.
Abt Associates continues to receive federal contracts to manage and evaluate foreign aid programs. It also completed an evaluation of the Indonesia Compact, a project of the Millennium Challenge Corporation to produce “green prosperity” in Indonesia through green energy and land management. It established a program in Central America to get banks to loan money to “green energy” firms. One feature of the program is that the loans are partially guaranteed by the U.S. taxpayer. In 2015, it began competing for contracts to provide various services to the CDC’s Center for Global Health It manages a project for USAID to expand access to health care and health coverage in Senegal. USAID also pays it to manage a project to help West African countries develop food security and reduce poverty through trade. It manages a joint project funded by USAID and Jordan to improve health service delivery in Jordan. USAID has also contracted Abt Associates to help Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan adapt to climate change and factor it into their development.
Abt Associates contracts with state governments. It completed a cost/benefit analysis of a Massachusetts welfare-reform program and a study of air quality and health outcomes for ten states in the northeast in 2016.
Abt Associates also works for foreign governments, most prominently Australia.
Private groups also contract or partner with Abt Associates to work on their projects. Abt Associates partnered with Ab James Poverty Action League to increase health insurance coverage in Nicaragua and evaluate family planning projects in Nigeria and Jordan. It worked with the National Alliance to End Homelessness to produce a website that collects and organizes research on the homeless. It received a grant from Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to set up Data Science Environments at New York University, University of California at Berkeley, and University of Washington. It evaluated the effectiveness of the Citizens Schools expanded school day program for the Wallace foundation.
Abt Associates has conducted political polling for media outlets including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Abt Associates acquired Stratus Consulting, an environmental consulting firm, in 2015. In 2011, Stratus had helped win an $18 billion award against Chevron on behalf of Ecuadorean Amazon villagers for ground water pollution caused by oil drilling in the 1970s. Stratus ghost wrote an Ecuadorian “independent” investigator’s scientific analysis of the damage. When Chevron sued Stratus for fraud and racketeering, Stratus recanted its research on the groundwater damage. Stratus’s 2004 $8.9 billion estimate of Exxon’s environmental damage to New Jersey was also questionable. When New Jersey settled with Exxon in 2015 for $225 million, Abt Associates defended Stratus’s original valuation of the damages.
In 2012, Abt Associates, with several other research organizations, evaluated the effectiveness of the federally funded Head Start program. When the study’s results showed that Head Start was largely ineffective, one of the study’s authors, Abt researcher Stephen Bell, warned against “presuming studies that fail to prove program effectiveness have proved program failure.” This attitude conflicts with Abt Associates’ stated position in favor of basing policy on empirical data.
Abt Associates also uses lobbyists to advance its interests in Congress. It has hired outside lobbying firms and employed at least one in-house lobbyist, Jeffrey Lubell, who was to “lobby and educate policymakers on how to solve ‘the nation’s pressing housing challenges.’” As Abt Associates does much consulting work for HUD and many other federal departments and agencies, lobbying policymakers who fund the project consulting and management contracts to one’s firm seems like a conflict of interest.
Abt Associates provides technical assistance for the Climate Economic Analysis for Development, Investment, and Resilience (CEADIR) program for USAID. CEADIR encouraged banks in El Salvador to loan money to environmentalist energy businesses. CEADIR gives partial loan guarantees to these banks using U.S. taxpayer dollars through the USAID’s Development Credit Authority. Abt Associates has expanded the CEADIR program other Central American countries and Bangladesh and plans to expand it to to East and West Africa, using more U.S. taxpayer dollars to guarantee loans to these businesses.
Abt Associates has what has been described as “a long and lucrative history as a contractor for the U.S. government.” Its revenues from the federal government have grown rapidly. From 1990 to 2002, it was awarded more than 400 government contracts for which it received more than $900 million, averaging about $70 million annually. Between 2009 and 2014, it received $1,559,667,491 in federal contracts, or about $259 million a year. In 2017, Abt Associates received $311,191,000 in federal contracts.
Abt Associates receives a significant income from market research. It was named as one of the top 25 research firms by the American Marketing Association with reported revenue of $147.2 million in market research for 2017.
Abt Associates has over 3,000 employees working in 60 countries.
Clark Abt founded Abt Associates in 1965. Prior to that he graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with an engineering degree in 1951, Johns Hopkins University with an M.A. in English in 1952, and a Ph.D from MIT in political science in 1965. He worked as an engineer for Bechtel Corporation, the U.S. Air Force, and the Raytheon company until he started Abt Associates. He was president from 1965 to 1985, and then chairman of the board from 1986 to 2005.
President and Chief Executive Officer
Kathleen Flanagan has been president and chief executive officer of Abt Associates since 2009. She first worked for Abt in 1983 as a health policy analyst. She later worked in Abt’s Labor Economics Research Area, started the International Workforce and Education Practice and Housing and Community Revitalization practice, and became group vice president for social, economic, and health policy in 2005.