Statistics that are publicly available from government agencies are essential for a nation to advance the economic well-being and quality of life of its people. Public policy makers are best served by statistics that are relevant for policy decisions, accurate, timely, and credible. Individuals, households, businesses, academic institutions, and other organizations rely on high-quality, publicly available data as the basis for informed decisions on a wide variety of issues. Moreover, the effective operation of a democratic system of government depends on the unhindered flow of statistical information that citizens can use to assess government actions and for other purposes. Federal statistical agencies are established to be a credible source of relevant, accurate, and timely statistics in one or more subject areas that are available to the public and policy makers.

“Relevant statistics” are statistics that measure things that matter to policy making, program implementation, monitoring, and evaluation, and public understanding. Relevance requires concern for providing data that help users meet their current needs for decision making and analysis, as well as anticipating future needs. “Accurate statistics” are statistics that match the phenomena being measured and do so in repeated measurements. Accuracy requires proper concern for consistency across geographic areas and across time, as well as for statistical measures of errors in the data. “Timely satistics” are those that are known close in time to the phenomena they measure. Timeliness requires concern for issuing data as frequently as is needed to reflect important changes in what is being studied, as well as disseminating data as soon as practicable after they are collected. “Credibility” requires concern for both the reality and appearance of impartiality and independence from political and other undue external influence. Credibility also requires that agencies follow such practices as making their data and the information that users need to work with the data readily available to all. It is the primary mission of agencies in the federal statistical system to strive to ensure the relevance, accuracy, timeliness, and credibility of statistical information.

Reasons to establish a statistical agency include:

• the opportunity to achieve higher data quality and greater efficiency of statistical production through a consolidated and professional activity,

• the need for ongoing, up-to-date information in a subject area that extends beyond the scope of individual operating units, possibly involving other departments or agencies,

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