Some officials of statistical agencies and Members of Congress, however, have argued that a distinction should be made between the sharing of business data and the sharing of personal data about individuals. They noted that breaches of confidentiality protection when personal information is involved may be more serious. The National Academy of Sciences has made recommendations regarding the need for appropriate legislative provisions on data sharing that the Subcommittee may wish to consider in its deliberations.
In the 2002 Economic Report of the President, the Council of Economic Advisors noted the critical need for reliable data and that data sharing would increase their quality and timeliness (p. 25):
… the quality of existing statistics is far from perfect and could be enhanced with further investment. Even real GDP, generally thought of as a reliable measure of overall activity in the U.S. economy, is susceptible to considerable revisions…. Such revisions lead to uncertainty for both government and private decision makers, which can cause costly delays…. A number of steps can be taken to improve the accuracy and timeliness of economic statistics. In particular, targeted improvements to the source data for the national accounts would go a long way toward illuminating the causes of the growing statistical discrepancy. Another cost-effective measure would be to ease the current restrictions on the sharing of confidential statistical data among federal statistical agencies. Such data sharing, which would be done solely for statistical purposes, is currently hindered by lack of a uniform confidentiality policy. Confidentiality is of key importance to all agencies and to the individuals and businesses who participate in Federal surveys, but a uniform confidentiality policy would allow agencies such as the Bureau of Economic Analysis, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the Census Bureau to cost-effectively compare and improve the quality of their published statistics while preserving confidentiality. In the past, attempts have been made to pass legislation, together with a conforming bill to modify the Internal Revenue Code, allowing such data sharing under carefully crafted agreements between or among statistical agencies. In 1999 such legislation passed the House but stalled in the Senate. The Administration will continue to seek passage of data sharing legislation to improve the quality and effectiveness of Federal statistical programs.
Positions on data sharing have also been issued by the Treasury Department and the Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT). Section 3802 of the Internal Revenue Service Restructuring and Reform Act of 1998 requires the secretary of the treasury and the JCT to conduct separate studies of the scope and use of provisions regarding taxpayer confidentiality and to report their findings, together with any recommendations deemed appropri-