The federal government makes available enormous amounts of valuable data, which are used by all levels of government, the private sector, nonprofit organizations, and individual citizens. We live in an information age; the demand for data and information, as a basis for decision making about economic, social, and environmental issues, is unprecedented. Although the federal government supplies much of these data, people are largely unaware of the sources of the data they want or use. In fact, one federal data source known as FedStat (see Appendix A for federal data sources) uses the Internet to deliver data collected and published by more than 70 federal agencies without the user’s knowing in advance which agency produced them. While it may not be necessary to know which agency produced the data, public support for government depends on public understanding of the role that government plays in people’s lives. Federal data help us understand how well (or poorly) the economy is running so that we can take steps to improve it. Data tell us about environmental quality so we can take preventive or remedial measures on critical issues and about differential levels of educational attainment and health within our populations so we can increase attention to removing barriers to equality.
Much federal data are available for subnational areas such as regions and states. We know which parts of the country have higher and lower unemployment, air quality problems, and traffic congestion. In many cases, these data are collected directly by or for the federal government. In other cases, data are collected by local or state government, using federal standards, so that uniform data are available across the county. At the county level, data are much more sparse and even more difficult to find in smaller areas. The Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS) promises to be a major source of small-area socioeconomic data, but it is still in the process of implementation (see Appendix A). Were this data available, the I-35W Coalition’s data collection problems would be simplified. County and subcounty data are currently available from the Census Bureau’s decennial Census.
Most data collected by state and local agencies are disseminated and made useful and available by federal agencies, principally the Census Bureau, the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Agency by agency, database by database, federal, state, and local partnerships are essential. Agreeing upon standards is critical to this effort, since data must be uniform across all places to be meaningful in summary and for comparison among places. Especially in the field of transportation, there remain many opportunities for creating standards for data collection and reporting.