60 Years of Improving Lives Through Research
Over 60 years, Westat has grown from a three-person statistical consulting firm with roots in Wyoming to one of the largest privately held research firms in the United States with an international presence and a broad portfolio of work spanning multiple disciplines. Our projects grew from small statistical sampling tasks to designing and fielding some of the largest surveys. Our client base expanded, and so did the types of work and areas of expertise.
Along the way, Westat attracted and retained an extraordinary group of experts who pioneered new methodologies, adopted new technologies, and continuously found new ways to help clients solve problems. Here are just a few highlights from our history.
Westat was founded in 1961 by three statisticians from the University of Wyoming—Edward C. Bryant, James M. Daley, and Donald W. King. The company was incorporated in January 1963 with a PO box in Laramie, Wyoming. The Westat name was a nod to the founders’ Western roots and statistical expertise.
After a rocky start, the company’s first big contract involved helping the U.S. Patent Office with information retrieval challenges. In 1963, Westat helped design a survey to gauge the receptivity of Washington, D.C.-area residents to public transport—a study that eventually led to the development of the Washington Metro system. Later, Westat undertook the sample design work, data weighing, tabulation, and reporting for the U.S. Department of Transportation’s groundbreaking Automobile Insurance and Compensation Study.
In 1967, Westat opened an office in Bethesda, Maryland, to be closer to major federal clients. Morris Hansen, renowned in the statistical community for revolutionizing how public information is produced, retired from the U.S. Census Bureau and joined Westat in 1968. The company conducted a survey of school principals for the U.S. Department Education in 1969 and achieved an 85% response rate.
Professional integrity underlies the reputation that has made Westat successful. In the short run it may be tempting to tell clients what they want to hear, but in the long run it is better policy to tell them what they need to know. It is part of what we get paid for and has become a tradition within the company.Westat Co-Founder Edward Bryant
The 1970s saw the growth of Westat’s survey business with its first longitudinal study, the evaluation of the Public Employment Program; its first national household survey, the National Survey of Family Growth; and its first large health study, the Health Maintenance Organization Evaluation Study. Westat helped pioneer a technique for sample selection, developed by Joseph Waksberg and Warren Mitofsky, which significantly reduced the cost of such surveys.
In 1970, Westat was acquired by American Can Company (ACC), which provided financial support for new projects and infrastructure investments. We purchased our first stand-alone personal computer—a Tektronix 4051 graphic computer with a statistics package in 1978. Westat’s first telephone research center (TRC) was established in 1979.
Joseph Hunt came over to Westat from ACC, bringing new levels of management expertise to the company. He would go on to serve as President from 1978 to 2011, leaving a lasting impact on our collaborative culture.
In 1979, Westat leaders established the Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) to pool their resources and purchase their independence from ACC. The ESOP allows employees to own a stake in the company and share in its financial success. The transition to employee ownership has been a key factor in the company’s success, fostering a culture of collaboration, innovation, and commitment to quality that is reflected in all aspects of our work.
Women Leaders at Westat
Women leaders have played a critical role in our success. In 1979, when the ESOP was established, 40% of senior managers were women. Among these leaders were pioneers such as Doris Krug Northrup, a psychologist with expertise in questionnaire design who became the first female vice president in 1972. Nancy Caldwell, who joined in 1969, led the National Assessment of Educational Progress, while Carla Maffeo, a medical sociologist, became a leader in health studies after joining in 1973. Renee Slobasky, who joined in 1974, directed instrument design and training for the National Survey of Family Growth and went on to lead the company’s large surveys work. She has served on the Board of Directors since 2006 and was elected Chair in 2023. Patricia Smith and Patricia Cunningham joined in 1975 and 1977, with Smith serving as human resources director and Cunningham as the first Telephone Research Center director.
In the 1980s, Westat moved to our current headquarters in Rockville, Maryland, and further developed specialization in all phases of surveys: sample design, instrument design, data collection (via mail, phone, web, personal interview), data processing and management, statistical analysis, and report writing. In 1986 the Automated Survey Control System (ASCS) was introduced and became the foundation for CATI (computer-assisted telephone interviewing), CAPI (computer-assisted personal interviewing), and similar automated systems used in a range of field projects.
Westat began work with many important new clients, including the U.S. Department of Education, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, and the National Center for Health Statistics.
We grew our field workforce of data collectors during this period and took on work in an increasingly wide array of areas and on projects of unprecedented scale and difficulty. Key projects included the Employment Opportunity Pilot Project for the U.S. Department of Labor, the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), and the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS).
In 1982, our research took on an international scope with a science study exchange between China and the U.S. Westat staff visited China and conducted a series of cancer research and nutrition studies.
In the 1990s and 2000s, Westat grew its workforce, expanded its headquarters, built a state-of-the-art internal network, and further developed in-house capabilities for data management, graphic design, high-volume reproduction, information security, library services, and more. Westat opened telephone research centers around the country throughout the 1990s and in 2007 began having telephone interviewers work from home.
Westat continued to innovate in the area of survey research with web-based surveys, the use of mobile technology, and multimode approaches. At the same time, we diversified our work into new areas such as epidemiological studies, clinical trials, technical assistance, program evaluation, and transportation safety.
James Smith, who became President and CEO in 2010, and Scott Royal, who became President and CEO in 2020, oversaw a tremendous period of growth and diversification for Westat. Westat acquired education research and technical assistance specialist Edvance Research in 2015, information technology solutions company Fenestra in 2015, healthcare data analytics firm JEN Associates in 2018, and Insight Policy Research in 2022.
In 2011 Westat began work on the Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health (PATH) Study, a prospective, longitudinal cohort study to assess tobacco use behaviors and health across the nation. This ongoing study continues to provide a solid evidence base for the Food and Drug Administration’s regulatory activities around tobacco.
The capabilities and expertise developed in the areas of health, education, and social policy in the 2010s, helped position Westat to support our clients through the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. In recent years, Westat applied its expertise in epidemiology and in managing coordinating centers and networks to support health studies such as REDS-IV-P, VISION, and TopMed. In the area of education, Westat began management of the National Comprehensive Center for the U.S. Department of Education.
Looking to the future, Westat is poised to continue its growth and expansion, building on its legacy of excellence in research and its commitment to making a positive impact on society.
Over the past 60 years, the people of Westat, both past and present, have worked tirelessly to achieve our mission of Improving Lives Through Research. The secret to our longevity and success can be attributed to the contributions of each and every staff member—day after day and year after year.Scott Royal, President and CEO