Once it is assigned to produce high-quality statistical data in a given area, an agency should be able to issue statistical reports based on professionally designed methods. As is the practice at the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Bureau of the Census, for example, these reports should be issued without intervening policy review. Direct reporting of results by expert statisticians is a key marker of professional integrity. Policy direction regarding data collection procedures or reporting of data reduces the credibility of reporting, slows down the release of the data, and reduces the usefulness of the data for policy and research. It also limits the research on statistical techniques and methods that is vital to improve the reliability, validity, and relevance of key statistical indicators.
Putting this principle in yet another way, there should be clear separation of the purposes of data collection—which should be decided by policy makers—from how the questions are to be asked and the final content of the report—which are best decided by the statisticians and other relevant specialists.
Many of the guidelines listed above for increasing the professionalism of agencies will also help ensure independence. For example, enhancing the professional qualifications for the heads of statistical agencies will help ensure that the direction of data collection has a professional rather than a political motivation. In addition, many of the guidelines on independence will reinforce the professionalism of agencies.
The usefulness and integrity of these statistical efforts would be greatly enhanced by improving the dissemination of data and results. There are many approaches available to make the results and data more widely available. Some agencies use data archives to release public-use files containing the original data from surveys or data compilations. Others provide this material to researchers upon request. In some cases, to protect the confidentiality of sensitive material, statistical agencies have established special procedures to give researchers access while requiring confidentiality agreements that ensure the privacy of respondents.
The committee emphasizes that open access to the original material (while always using practices consistent with protecting individual privacy) encourages use of the data and enlists the broad community of researchers in the task of analyzing and understanding current trends. Just as important is that external analysis provides the critical function of reviewing the data and methods of the agency and helps inform the research community and policy makers about the usefulness and limitations of the data. At the same time, it alerts policy makers to the need for improvements and the best applications of the results.
Several agencies currently make some or all of their material available