DEFINITION OF A FEDERAL STATISTICAL AGENCY
A federal statistical agency is a unit of the federal government whose principal function is the compilation and analysis of data and the dissemination of information for statistical purposes.1
• The unit is generally recognized as a distinct entity. It may be located within a cabinet-level department or an independent agency, or it may be an independent agency.
• Compilation may include direct collection of data from individuals organizations, or establishments through surveys or the acquisition of information from other sources, such as administrative records maintained by government agencies to operate a program, datasets available from the private sector, or data gleaned from selected Internet websites.
• Analysis may take various forms. It includes methodological research to improve the quality and usefulness of data. It also includes substantive analysis—for example, developing indicators from one or more data series, developing models to produce estimates, making projections, interpreting data, and explaining differences among statistics obtained by different methods, such as surveys and administrative records. An analysis by a statistical agency does not advocate policies or take partisan positions.
• Dissemination means making information available to the public, to the executive branch, and to Congress.
• Statistical purposes include description, evaluation, analysis, inference, and research. Statistical purposes relate to descriptions of groups and exclude any interest in or identification of an individual person or economic unit. For these purposes, a statistical agency may collect data directly from providers, or it may obtain data from other sources, but it does not use these data for administrative, regulatory, or law enforcement purposes. The data are used solely to describe and analyze statistical patterns, trends, and relationships involving groups of individuals or other units.
1 The U.S. Office of Management and Budget (2007:33364) provides a similar definition of a statistical agency: “An agency or organizational unit of the executive branch whose activities are predominantly the collection, compilation, processing, or analysis of information for statistical purposes.”