Occasionally, statistical agencies are charged to collect information that is made available for both statistical and nonstatistical purposes. For example, the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) maintains the Airline On-Time Statistics Program (originated by the former Civil Aeronautics Board), which identifies individual airlines.1 However, BTS does not itself use the data for administrative or regulatory purposes—those functions are carried out by the Federal Aviation Administration—and the data are not collected under a pledge of confidentiality. As another example, higher education institutions that participate in federal student aid programs are required by law (20 USC 1094(a)(17)) to respond to surveys conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). The data collected on enrollments, graduation rates, faculty and staff, finances, institutional prices, and student financial aid feed into the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). The data are not collected under a pledge of confidentiality, and NCES makes information on individual institutions available to parents and students to help them in choosing a college, as well as to researchers and others.2 NCES also collaborates with institutions through the National Postsecondary Education Cooperative, which works to improve the quality of reporting and dissemination of information to the public, identify modifications to definitions that are necessary to keep abreast of changes in the field, and address other aspects of the IPEDS program.
Statistical agencies should carefully consider the advantages and disadvantages of undertaking a program with both statistical and nonstatistical purposes. One potential advantage is that there may be improved consistency and quality when a statistical agency collects information for its own use and that of other parts of its department. One potential disadvantage is that the program may compromise the public perception of the agency as objective and separate from government administrative, regulatory, and enforcement functions.
When an agency decides to carry out a program that has both statistical and nonstatistical uses, it must take care to clearly describe that program on such dimensions as the extent of confidentiality protection, if any (for example, some but not all of the data may be collected under a pledge of confidentiality); the statutory basis for the program and the public purposes it serves, including benefits to respondents from having comparative information
1Available: http://www.bts.gov/xml/ontimesummarystatistics/src/index.xml [February 2013].