practices include a commitment to quality and professional practice and an active program of methodological and substantive research. The first three principles and 10 of the 11 practices have appeared in each prior edition; this fourth edition adds the principle that statistical agencies must operate from a strong position of independence and the practice that agencies must have ongoing internal and external evaluations of their programs.

The fourth edition retains the basic structure of previous editions in that Part I presents the principles and practices in summary form, and Part II, Commentary, further explains, defines, and illustrates the topics in Part I. The fourth edition includes new appendix material to orient the reader: Appendix A provides an overview of the organization of the U.S. federal statistical system, which is the most decentralized in the developed world, and compares the size of the system to the size of the federal government as a whole. Appendix B summarizes key legislation and regulations that affect federal statistical agencies, such as the Confidential Information Protection and Statistical Efficiency Act of 2002. Appendix C reproduces the Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics of the United Nations Statistical Commission. Appendix D provides addresses of Internet sites for major federal agencies that provide statistical data, and Appendix E reproduces the prefaces to the first, second, and third editions of the CNSTAT report.

We are sometimes asked what distinguishes a “principle” from a “practice.” Although the distinction is not hard and fast, we deem “principles” to be fundamental and intrinsic to the concept of a federal statistical agency. Without policy relevance, credibility with data users, trust of data providers, and a strong position of independence, an agency cannot provide the benefits to policy makers and the public in a democratic society that are the rationale for establishing a statistical agency. We deem “practices” to be ways and means of making the basic principles operational and facilitating an agency’s adherence to the basic principles.

Although focused on federal statistical agencies, many of the principles and practices articulated here likely also apply to statistical activities elsewhere, such as in federal policy, evaluation, research, and program agencies, in state and local government agencies, and in other countries. Finally, the principles and practices in this report remain guidelines, not prescriptions. We intend them to assist statistical agencies and to inform policy makers, data users, and others about the characteristics of statistical agencies that enable them to serve the public good.


William F. Eddy, Chair

Committee on National Statistics, 2009



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