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5 Administrative Records In a chapter of the panel's interim report called "Administrative Records: Intriguing Prospects, Formidable Obstacles" and in an earlier letter report, we outlined some basic requirements for more effective use of administrative records and recommended several actions to explore and develop new uses of administra- tive records in the 2000 census and beyond. In the letter report, we recommended that the Census Bureau "undertake a planning study . . . that would develop one or more detailed design options for a 2010 administrative records census." The Panel on Census Requirements in the Year 2000 and Beyond, in its interim report, gave strong support to the recommendations in our letter report and also urged greater attention to enhanced uses of administrative records in the Census Bureau's current estimates programs. In this report, we focus on many of the same issues, illuminated by the light of some significant developments since the interim report was issued. The pros- pects for a national health care information system and legislation to govern the use of health records, a July 1993 Interagency Conference on Statistical Uses of Administrative Records sponsored by the Census Bureau, increased interest in continuous measurement, and other developments have served to heighten the prospects for expanded uses of administrative records. November 1993 brought the publication of the final report of the Panel on Confidentiality and Data Access of the Committee on National Statistics, with several recommendations relevant to statistical uses of administrative records. In this chapter we examine uses of administrative records not only in census operations, but also in other demographic programs. Although some of the obstacles associated with administrative record uses are indeed formidable, we 136
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ADMINISTRATIVE RECORDS 137 believe that the prospects are more intriguing and promising than ever before. The recommendations in this chapter are designed to take full advantage of these prospects. Some of the topics covered here are of such central importance in improving the census (e.g., the development of a Master Address File and improved record linkage techniques) that they have been discussed in a broader context in Chapter 2. Here we address the particular relevance of these issues for uses of administra- tive records. The panel is encouraged by the progress that has been made in response to its earlier recommendations about the use of administrative records. In particular, the Census Bureau should be commended for taking a major step in initiating government-wide discussion of the use of administrative records by convening an Interagency Conference on Statistical Uses of Administrative Records in July 1993 and subsequently issuing a report on the conference. We also commend the Census Bureau for its initiation of a cooperative arrangement with the Statistics of Income Division of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to support and extend the latter's research on the population coverage of IRS and Social Security Ad- ministration records. We believe that the Census Bureau's announced plans for using administrative records in the 1995 census test are consistent with the rel- evant recommendations in our interim report, subject to certain reservations dis- cussed later in this chapter. Other recommendations made at the time of the interim report pertain to longer-term goals, such as the call for a long-range research and development program relating to the use of administrative records for demographic data, and the need for ultimate coordination and oversight for statistical uses of administra- tive records through the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). In this chapter, we reemphasize these recommendations and stress the importance of a proactive policy aimed at overcoming the formidable obstacles and taking full advantage of the intriguing prospects. Early in its deliberations, the panel concurred with the Census Bureau's judgment that a 2000 census based entirely or primarily on administrative records would not be feasible. We recommended, therefore, that exploration of census uses of administrative records follow a two-track approach. The 2000 census track would identify and test possible uses of administrative records in the 2000 census as an adjunct to the more traditional modes of data collection; the long- range track would develop and test procedures for a possible administrative records census in 2010 or beyond, as well as uses of administrative records in other demographic data programs. We remain committed to this two-track ap- proach. We believe that an administrative records census in 2010 is a live option that should be thoroughly examined and evaluated during the current decennial census cycle, in order to avoid putting off the question of its feasibility for yet another decade. The next section of this chapter addresses some of the fundamental questions
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38 COUNTING PEOPLE IN THE INFORMATION AGE associated with the use of administrative records in statistical programs. Among them are those associated with access to administrative records for statistical and research purposes, the importance of public acceptance, and how best to address some of the specific technical requirements associated with the use of administra- tive records. Key recommendations in this section are that health care legislation should not preclude uses of new health care records in the decennial census and that the Census Bureau should be invited to participate in the design of new health care record systems to help ensure their suitability for statistical uses. We then proceed to a description of the main features of an administrative records census and a discussion of the many issues that arise. We identify privacy, coverage, geography, content, and cost as considerations that need to be properly addressed. This section also emphasizes the crucial need for a Master Address File without it, an administrative records census would be virtually impossible to conduct. In the next section we examine the uses of administrative records in the 1995 census test and the 2000 census. Although a census based primarily on adminis- trative records is not feasible for 2000, there are still many ways in which admin- istrative records can be used to improve the quality and reduce the costs associ- ated with the 2000 census. In addition, both the 1995 census test and the 2000 census provide rare opportunities to learn more about the potential benefits and the potential problems arising from an administrative records census. Administrative records have current and potential uses not only in decennial census operations, but also in other demographic programs. They play a major role, for example, in the Census Bureau's current population estimates program, and they also have a potentially significant role to play in a continuous measure- ment system. In the next to last section, we stress the importance of this broader view of the role of administrative records in demographic programs. In the final section of the chapter we summarize the different ways in which administrative records have been or might be used to help satisfy needs for small- area demographic data. We identify the major components of a proactive policy to develop enhanced statistical uses of administrative records. We urge the Census Bureau to follow such a policy and we call on other executive branch agencies and the Congress to lend their support to it. BASIC REQUIREMENTS FOR MORE EFFECTIVE USE OF ADMINISTRATIVE RECORDS The panel believes that there are significant benefits to be obtained from greater use of administrative records both in the decennial census program and in the programs that provide current demographic data. For example, tabulations of birth and death records and extracts from tax and Social Security records are important inputs to the Census Bureau's current population estimates program and in the demographic analyses that have played a significant role in the evalu
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ADMINISTRATIVE RECORDS 139 ation of census coverage for several decades. However, the potential benefits of using administrative records, especially to produce more frequent and timely data for small geographic areas, are far from being fully realized. In this section we discuss major policy and technical issues that must be addressed in order to be successful in efforts to develop effective new uses of administrative records. As indicated above, these issues were addressed in our interim report, and some of the relevant background presented in that discussion is repeated here. We also take note of some important developments over the past few months that are relevant to this discussion. Access Effective use of administrative records by the Census Bureau requires a legal right to access, the establishment of close and mutually beneficial ongoing rela- tionships between the Census Bureau and the custodians of administrative records, and reasonable assurance of continued access to data that are suitable for the intended statistical uses. The value of administrative record systems for statisti- cal uses will be enhanced if custodians are willing to consider making modest additions to or changes in content, when this can be done at a reasonable cost and without detriment to the program uses of the data. By a legal right to access we mean at least the absence of legal prohibitions on access for statistical uses, and, preferably, positive statutory recognition of statistical uses as a permissible secondary use of the records. The Census Bureau probably has greater legal access to administrative records than any other U.S. statistical agency, but its access is by no means universal, especially to systems maintained at the state level, for which access is controlled in part by state laws. Currently, the question of Census Bureau access to health records is of special interest. Under the Clinton administration's proposal for health care reform, virtually everyone would be covered by one of the available health care plans. Administration of the new system will require the creation and continuous updating of enrollment records for all participants with information about the* identities, current addresses, characteristics, and plan affiliations. Potentially, these health care enrollment records could provide more complete coverage of the U.S. population, with current information about each person's location and demographic characteristics, than any other national system of administrative records. The records are likely to include information on each person's race and ethnicity, data elements that are lacking or incomplete in other administrative record systems with broad national coverage. The potential usefulness of such a record system for the decennial census and other demographic data programs is obvious. The extent of its actual usefulness will be determined by decisions about the specific content of health care records and about legislation governing use of and access to them. The schedule for reaching these decisions is difficult to predict, but relevant legislation on the
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140 COUNTING PEOPLE IN THE INFORMATION AGE privacy and confidentiality of health records is being actively considered and may be enacted in the current session of the U.S. Congress. Also being consid- ered is more general legislation that would modify and extend the scope of the Privacy Act of 1974 and establish a privacy protection commission. The Committee on National Statistics, over the past several months, has paid close attention to the implications of health care reform for federal statistical activities. In March 1994, it approved and transmitted a letter report (Bradburn, 1994) to several members of the Congress who have played major roles in the development of legislation on the confidentiality of health care information. The position taken by the committee in this report can be summarized by the follow- ~ng excerpt: The Committee has two concerns. The first and foremost is that privacy and confidentiality of health care information be adequately protected. The second is that the U.S. health care system, individual health care subscribers, and the public as a whole benefit from access to that information for research and other statistical purposes in ways that protect confidentiality. It is not necessary to sacrifice either confidentiality or the benefits of information: both are possible if legislation provides for responsible access and demonstrated, effective means to protect confidentiality. In the report, the committee identifies ways in which access to health care enroll- ment information would permit the Census Bureau to reduce the cost of decennial census operations and improve the quality of current population estimates. A recommendation of the Panel on Confidentiality and Data Access of the Committee on National Statistics (Duncan et al., 1993) called for expanded ac- cess to administrative records for statistical uses, subject to appropriate con- straints: "Greater access should be permitted to key statistical and administrative data sets for the development of sampling frames and other statistical uses. Ad- ditional data sharing should only be undertaken in those instances in which the procedures for collecting the data comply with the panel's recommendations for informed consent or notification" (Duncan et al., 1993:99, Recommendation 4.1~. Legal access is necessary but not sufficient for effective use. Access in specific instances is often arranged only with great difficulty. These difficulties will continue unless statistical agencies and the custodians of record systems develop new ways of thinking about statistical uses of administrative records. The custodians need to regard satisfying the statistical requirements of the nation as one of the responsibilities on which they will be judged, not as an inconve- nience or an intrusion on their territory. Some flexibility is needed on the part of both statistical and program agencies in adapting their operating procedures and schedules to meet basic statistical needs. There must also be willingness by the statistical agencies to assist administrative agencies in every possible way, for example, by providing technical support to the latter for the production of small- area tabulations of administrative records, to the extent that this can be done
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ADMINISTRATIVE RECORDS 141 while ensuring a one-way flow of administrative records for statistical uses. Statistics Canada's access to administrative records, which makes possible the demographic data system that is described later in this chapter, may provide a useful model. These conditions might be more readily created if the Office of Management and Budget were to adopt a strong leadership position, as part of the current administration's campaign to reinvent government, in efforts to maximize the utility of information collected by federal government agencies. A 1976 policy statement of the Social Security Administration (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1976:17) suggests a principle that might guide such efforts: The operation of the social security system produces a vast and unique body of statistical information about employment, payrolls, life-time earnings histories, retirement, disability, mortality, and benefit claims and payments. The Social Security Administration has an obligation to develop these data according to the best scientific standards and with maximum economy and minimum delay, and to publish them in a form useful both to the program administrator and to social scientists generally. It also has an obligation to encourage the linkage of these data with other bodies of statistical information and to make the data available for research uses by other organizations, subject always to careful safeguarding of the confidentiality of information relating to individuals. A similar policy would be appropriate for all major systems of administrative records that have potential statistical uses. The Census Bureau's initiative in organizing the July 1993 Interagency Con- ference on Statistical Uses of Administrative Records and its intention to hold a similar meeting with custodians of state record systems are important steps. As indicated in the proceedings of the first conference (Bureau of the Census, 1994h), many of the custodians of administrative record systems recognize that sharing their records for statistical uses would have benefits. Several officials said they would feel more comfortable sharing the records if specifically authorized to do so by their legislative authority. They were all conscious of the need to inform data subjects about how their data would be used and to inform the public about the benefits and risks associated with data sharing. They felt the need for some mechanism, such as an individual ombudsman, an expanded role for OMB or a data protection board, "to develop and oversee policies on data sharing, and to provide a balance between the interests of data providers and data users." The panel also applauds the Census Bureau's initiative to establish and main- tain its Administrative Records Information System, which now provides de- tailed information about major federal and state administrative record systems that may have potential statistical and research uses beyond those that are directly related to the programs for which they were established. The coverage, content, and structure of administrative record systems changes frequently, and it is im
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42 COUNTING PEOPLE IN THE INFORMATION AGE portent that the information system be periodically updated. The system, which is publicly accessible in electronic form, can be a valuable resource for all agen- cies and organizations wishing to explore possible statistical and research appli- cations of administrative records. Effective use of IRS records in the decennial census and other Census Bu- reau programs requires a close working relationship between the two agencies. In the past, the two agencies have occasionally had difficulty in agreeing on their respective roles and in developing and maintaining smooth working a~range- ments. Nonetheless, statistical uses of IRS records have led to major improve- ments and efficiencies in Census Bureau programs, especially in the quinquen- nial economic censuses, in which IRS and Social Security Administration records are a major input to the census mailing lists and eliminate the need to collect separate data for most of the small establishments. The negotiations between the two agencies for access to IRS records for use in the 1995 census test and the 2000 census will be an important test of this ongoing relationship. The panel has been greatly encouraged by recent arrangements whereby the Census Bureau has funded work by a contractor to develop comprehensive meth- odological documentation of the IRS's research to compare estimated 1990 popu- lation counts based on a sample of linked individual income tax and informa- tional return records with 1990 census counts, with and without adjustment (Czajka and Schirrn, 1994~. In a second phase of this project, the contractor will analyze the potential for using the same IRS data sets in the context of a census or a program of current population estimates. Census Bureau, IRS, and contractor personnel meet periodically to review the work and develop specific objectives. The Census Bureau cannot commit itself to substantially greater reliance on administrative records unless it can have reasonable assurance of continued ac- cess. Proposed legislation that calls for the establishment of major new adminis- trative records systems should be carefully monitored to ensure that possibilities for important statistical uses of the records are recognized and are not unneces- sar~ly foreclosed. We believe it is especially important for the Census Bureau, other statistical agencies, and the Statistical Policy Office of OMB to play a role in the develop- ment of new record systems in connection with health care reform. These agen- cies should have the opportunity to participate in decisions about content of the records, so that standard concepts and definitions that are suitable for both adrnin- is~ative and statistical purposes can be adopted. In our interim report, we recom- mended that the Statistical Policy Office recognize statistical uses of administra- tive records as one of its major areas of responsibility and assume an active role in facilitating effective working relationships between statistical and program agencies and in tracking relevant legislation. Recommendation 5.1: Legislation that requires or authorizes the cre- ation of individual record systems for administrative purposes should
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ADMINISTRATIVE RECORDS 143 not create unnecessary barriers to legitimate statistical uses of the records, including important uses not directly related to the programs that the records were developed to serve. Preferably, such legislation should explicitly allow for such uses, subject to strong protection of the confidentiality of individual information. The panel urges Congress, in considering legislation relevant to health care reform, not to foreclose possible uses of health care enrollment records for the decennial cen- suses and other basic demographic statistical programs. Recommendation 5.2: To facilitate statistical uses of new health record systems, the responsible executive branch agencies should invite the Census Bureau and other federal statistical agencies to participate ac- tively in the development of content and access provisions for these record systems. Recommendation 5.3: The Office of Management and Budget should review identifiers, especially addresses, and demographic data items currently included in major administrative record systems with a view to promoting standardization and facilitation of statistical uses of infor- mation about individuals both in these record systems and in new ones that may be developed. Public Acceptance Expanded statistical uses of administrative records in the census will require at least the tacit acceptance of those who provide information about themselves to the program agencies. Greater use of administrative records could reduce the number of requests for individuals to provide information about themselves to the government and also has the potential for improving coverage and substantially reducing the cost of censuses. The key issues, however, are consent and confi- dentiality. Do people accept the use of information about themselves for statisti- cal purposes that are not directly related to the purposes for which they supplied their information? Should they be able, as individuals, to prevent such uses? Will the confidentiality of their data be adequately protected? Effective use of administrative records for census evaluation, coverage improvement, and supple- mentation of content may require that one or more identifiers, such as full name, date of birth, and Social Security number, be collected in the census and entered into census electronic files, along with addresses. Will this be acceptable? These questions are not easy to answer. As already noted, the final report of the Panel on Confidentiality and Data Access called for increased sharing of data among federal agencies for statistical and research purposes, with greater access to "key statistical and administrative data sets for the development of sampling frames and other statistical uses"
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44 COUNTING PEOPLE IN THE INFORMATION AGE (Duncan et al., 1993, Recommendation 4.1~. That panel specified that such uses should be conditional on strong protection of the confidentiality of the data and the use of suitable informed consent or notification procedures. It also recom- mended that statistical agencies undertake and support continuing research to monitor the views of data providers and the general public on data sharing for statistical purposes and on several other aspects of federal statistical activities (Recommendation 3.4~. We believe that it is necessary to proceed with public debate about the ethical, legal, and policy issues associated with statistical uses of administrative records. The Census Bureau has had contacts with privacy advocates in connec- tion with previous censuses and has informed us that it plans future discussions that will focus specifically on statistical uses of administrative records in the 1995 census test. However, there has been some reluctance on the part of the agencies involved to enter a public debate for fear that calling attention to these questions might lead to discontinuance of important existing activities, such as the use of income tax return and Social Security data in the Census Bureau's intercensal population estimates programs. We believe it is better to face these questions directly. Discussions are likely to be more productive if they focus on specific uses of administrative records, such as improvement of coverage in the 2000 census and the implications of an administrative records census in 2010, rather than on broad philosophical questions. Carefully designed surveys and focus group interviews can help provide background for public discussion of these issues. The views expressed by data providers and the public in surveys do not always coincide with those of privacy advocates as reflected in congressional testimony, panel reports, and other public venues. For example, some privacy advocates have expressed strong objections to the possible use of the Social Security number as an identifier for participants in health care plans. But in the 1993 Harris-Equifax Health Information Privacy Survey, about two-thirds of the respondents favored the use of the Social Security number for this purpose in preference to a new identifier (Louis Harris and Associates, 1993~. Relevant information on taxpayers' opinions about possible uses of their tax information in the census of population and for other statistical purposes has been collected in a series of surveys conducted for the IRS, most recently in the 1990 Taxpayer Opinion Survey. In that survey, the results suggested that the majority of taxpayers support the idea of their tax information being released to other agencies for statistical purposes, but that a minority, generally about 1 in 5, are strongly opposed. When they were specifically asked about the use of adminis- trative records in a decennial census, 70 percent of the survey respondents fa- vored the use of Social Security information on their date of birth and sex and 15 percent were strongly opposed. A smaller proportion, 61 percent, favored the use of income tax return information on their place of residence and income in the census and 23 percent were strongly opposed (Internal Revenue Service, 1993~.
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ADMINISTRATIVE RECORDS 145 Another kind of evidence about people's feelings on this subject is provided by the responses of survey respondents to requests for their Social Security numbers or other identifiers, so that information about them residing in adminis- trative record systems can be obtained and linked to their survey responses. When Social Security numbers have been requested in surveys sponsored by the Census Bureau, relatively small proportions of respondents, usually well under 10 percent, have refused to give them to the survey interviewers (Beresford, 1992~. Response to these surveys and to individual survey items is voluntary. Survey respondents' willingness to give permission for such linkages can be influenced considerably by the manner in which permission is sought. Common practice is to request the needed identifiers at some point in a survey, following a brief explanation of the purposes for which they will be used. Recent experi- ments conducted by Statistics Canada (1994) tested two different procedures for obtaining health insurance numbers from respondents to a national health survey, so that data from provincial health ministry administrative files could be linked to their survey responses. The common practice of asking for the numbers near the end of the survey, with an explanation of their intended use, resulted in a low refusal rate. However, a procedure that required a signed consent form was successful for only about one-half of the respondents. The results of opinion surveys and experiments like the ones cited are sensi- tive to variations in many features: sponsorship and purpose of the survey; the population covered; the sample design and selection methods used; the wording, format, and order of questions; the context in which questions are asked; the mode of response; the level of nonresponse; and others. To obtain more informa- tion for developing its findings and recommendations on this topic, the panel commissioned a review of relevant research (Blair, 1994~. Some of the prelimi- nary findings of this review, which includes extensive analysis of the data from the most recent (1990) national Taxpayer Opinion Survey sponsored by the IRS, are reflected in our conclusions on this topic. Data from different surveys and other sources are difficult to compare. Only the IRS Taxpayer Opinion Survey series specifically addressed statistical uses of administrative records, and that was done in the context of surveys dealing prima- rily with the experience and views of knowledgeable taxpayers (not the general adult population) relating to tax compliance issues. The series of U.S. surveys about privacy issues sponsored by Equifax, including the 1993 Health Informa- tion Privacy Survey, has focused almost entirely on people's concerns about administrative (nonstatistical) uses of and access to information about them in a much more general context. Nevertheless, analysis of the data from these two sets of surveys suggests a certain amount of consistency in identification of the population subgroups that are most concerned about privacy issues. Women, blacks, people with less education, and, somewhat less clearly, middle-aged people exhibit the highest proportions with general and specific privacy concerns.
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46 COUNTING PEOPLE IN THE INFORMATION AGE It is our view that surveys and other research undertaken to date have not yet provided a sufficiently clear picture of the public's understanding of and views on statistical uses of administrative records. The issues are conceptually com- plex, requiring care in both explanation and attitude measurement. Most people have given little thought to this subject, so responses to questions about it may be based mostly on generalized feelings about privacy issues and may be sensitive to minor variations in question wording and context. Experience in the series of taxpayer opinion surveys has shown that asking people how they feel about specific kinds of uses leads to results that are substantially at variance with responses to broad philosophical questions. More information is needed about the specific concerns of those who express strong resistance to secondary uses of their administrative record information. Opinions may change if administrative record uses in the decennial census should enter the arena of broad public debate. For these reasons, the panel believes that further research on public views about the use of administrative records is needed. Recommendation 5.4: The Census Bureau, in cooperation with other agencies and organizations, should support a program of research on public views about statistical uses of administrative records in govern- ment. The research should focus on public reaction to very specific administrative record use scenarios, rather than on general questions of privacy. Possible biasing effects of the sponsorship of such research need to be guarded against. Survey designs, instruments, protocols, and procedures should by re- viewed by qualified independent experts not associated with the sponsoring orga- nizations. If legislation is passed that establishes a privacy protection commis- sion or board, we believe it would be appropriate for such a body to sponsor research of this kind or to provide external advice on research plans to other organizations sponsoring such research. Technical Requirements Several of the central themes that are discussed in Chapters 1 and 2 includ- ing address list development, record linkage research, the need for long-term planning, and the need for greater interagency cooperation and coordination-are critical to making better use of administrative records in the decennial census and in other programs that produce small-area population and housing data. The first two of these are technical requirements, and in this subsection we discuss briefly their particular relevance to statistical uses of administrative records. As stated in Chapter 2, the panel believes that a geographic database that is fully integrated with a Master Address File is a basic requirement, whether for a traditional census or for one making greater use of administrative records. To be cost-effective and available for noncensus uses, the system should be continu
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ADMINISTRATIVE RECORDS 167 Bureau's current population (and eventually income) estimates could be based on data covering a substantially greater proportion of the total U.S. population. Estimates of Income and Poverty For the past several years the Census Bureau has been considering ways to provide income and poverty estimates for counties, cities, and places. Although still in the research stage, the methodology would depend heavily on the avail- ability and access to data from the IRS Individual Master File the same file extract the Census Bureau now uses to prepare its population estimates (de- scribed above). Another set of files that would be used in methods development are those that can be created by linking the Individual Master File extract with sample survey data from the March Income Supplement of the Current Popula- tion Survey and the Survey of Income and Program Participation. Linking the sample survey individual and household records to the specific tax return would bring together the information on tax returns with the detailed demographic and socioeconomic data collected in those surveys for a substantial sample of the population. These enriched files for a sample of the population essentially Census Bureau data and tax return data-would provide a basis for modeling small-area estimates (Bureau of the Census, 1993c). New impetus for the development of small-area income and poverty esti- mates would be provided by the enactment of proposed legislation, the Poverty Data Improvement Act of 1993, calling on the Census Bureau to provide esti- mates of the number of children in poverty for states, counties, local units of general purpose government, and school districts. The legislation does not spe- cifically call for access to additional administrative records (access to the IRS files mentioned above is assumed), but it would certainly improve the prospects of the Census Bureau's ability to prepare reliable estimates for the poverty uni- verse if access to other administrative records were possible. Specifically, access to files of programs directed toward people and families at the lowest end of the income scale, e.g., Aid to Families With Dependent Children and Food Stamps, would be an important addition to the administrative record armamentarium use- ful for small-area poverty estimation. Poverty estimates based on a combination of IRS and Aid to Families With Dependent Children (or Food Stamp) files may provide more realistic and credible estimates than those based solely on IRS files linked to national sample survey data. Use of Administrative Records in Surveys: The Survey of Income and Program Participation The Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) is a Census Bureau panel survey that provides detailed information on the economic situation of people and families in the United States and how public transfer and tax programs
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68 COUNTING PEOPLE IN THE INFORMATION AGE affect their financial circumstances. SIPP was designed to obtain improved and more comprehensive information on the distribution of household and personal income in the United States. Hitherto, the main source of such information the March Income Supplement of the Current Population Survey had limitations that could be overcome only by making substantial changes in the survey instru- ment and procedures (Bowie and Kasprzyk, 1987~. From the beginning, the SIPP was conceived as an instrument that would combine household survey data and administrative records through linkages based on Social Security numbers ob- tained from survey respondents. Some of the major goals anticipated for the use of administrative records in SIPP included: 1. A supplemental sampling frame to increase the reliability of estimates for selected subgroups (e.g., old age, survivors, and disability insurance recipients, supplemental security income recipients); 2. To evaluate quality of the survey data by comparing items collected in the survey with comparable items available from administrative records; and 3. A supplemental source for items difficult to obtain by a survey (e.g., earning and program benefit histories). Other potential gains include data enhancements through linking demo- graphic data from the survey with economic data sets from establishment and enterprise reporting in the economic census and other data files maintained by the Census Bureau (Herriot et al., 1989a). During the development phases of SIPP, the Income Survey Development Program experimented with a large number of administrative records sources, including the Aid to Families With Dependent Children master file maintained by the Texas State Department of Welfare, the Supplementary Security Record, the Master Beneficiary Record, the Basic Educational Opportunity Grant applicant file, the Veterans Administration's Pension and Compensation file, the Internal Revenue Service's Individual Master File, and state record files for Unemploy- ment Insurance and Workers Compensation. A planned match to the Summary Earnings File, which contains a history of covered earnings for each worker, was never implemented. The SIPP program has a continuing commitment to the use of administrative records for statistical purposes, and the ability to match survey and records infor- mation with a minimum of error is of prime importance. The Social Security number, a unique key identifier, is collected and its quality benefits from the fact that special measures are taken by the Census Bureau to ensure that each number reported in SIPP is complete and valid. The wealth of other data-last name, first name, house number, street name, apartment designation, city, zip code, state, and date of birth adds to the quality of any matching and linking of SIPP to other administrative records. In summary, SIPP is an example of a survey pro- gram designed to take advantage of administrative records to provide the highest
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ADMINISTRATIVE RECORDS 169 quality, comprehensive data on a specific subject. In addition, the potential exists for developing a substantially enhanced database by supplementing costly survey data with information already existing in administrative records systems. A recent Committee on National Statistics panel report on the Survey of Income and Program Participation (Citro and Kalton, 1993:90) said "we strongly support an increased role for administrative records in the SIPP program. However, there are many operational and technical problems, in addition to concerns about con- fidentiality, that impede ready use .... Nonetheless, we urge the Census Bureau to seek innovative ways for SIPP to benefit from the extensive information that is available on income and programs from administrative record sources." This last suggestion, that the Census Bureau seek innovative ways for SIPP to benefit from administrative records, need not be limited to SIPP. The post- censal demographic/economics estimates program activities should also be en- couraged to continue research into the use of administrative records files for program expansion and enhancement. Indeed, the federal statistical system in general could benefit by devoting some effort to looking for innovative ways to take advantage of information already available from administrative records. Postcensal Estimates: State Programs The foregoing discussion dealt only with the use of administrative records available at the national level across all areas of the country. There are large numbers of files maintained by and under the auspices of state authority. In at least one state, California, an administrative record file is used to generate popu- lation estimates at the substate level-counties. Data from the driver's license file maintained by the state's Department of Motor Vehicles are used to estimate gross intercounty (and interstate) migration of the population 18-64 years of age. The basic ingredient in the estimation process is the availability of driver's li- cense change-of-address forms maintained by the Department of Motor Vehicles. Holders of driver's licenses are required to report any change of address to the department, and there are a number of incentives to do so within a reasonable time. These change-of-address forms are processed by the department and given to the Demographic Research Unit, California Department of Finance, which is charged with the responsibility of preparing postcensal population estimates. The change-of-address forms are coded to counties, and aggregated data showing gross in and out moves by county are provided to the Demographic Research Unit for its population estimates program (Hoag, 1984~. In this particular application, the statistical agency (Demographic Research Unit) does not obtain the actual micro-record but depends on the program agency, the Department of Motor Vehicles, to provide a special tabulation of its files. This model of interagency cooperation is instructive in that it permits program agencies that may be reluctant or legally prohibited from transferring individu- ally identifiable administrative records to other agencies to still expand their use
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170 COUNTING PEOPLE IN THE INFORMATION AGE by carrying through special operations or tabulations to meet other agencies' statistical needs. One problem with this procedure is the total dependence on the originating agency to provide the material in some timely fashion. There may be legitimate reasons for delays and interruptions to occur. Another procedure would be for the originating agency to provide the basic file (extract or mini- record with confidentiality protection) on a regular basis and leave the processing to the receiving agency. But this may involve a number of legal and technical constraints that would have to be addressed. The California program illustrates an important use of state administrative records for population estimates that could be emulated by other states depending on the nature and scope of their own driver's license files. Canada's Use of Administrative Records Statistics Canada has been doing extensive research into the potential use of a variety of administrative records for small-area estimation and at present makes intensive use of the personal income tax records, i.e., Revenue Canada Taxation files (corresponding to our own Internal Revenue Service Individual Income Tax Returns) for this purpose. Statistics Canada had also been doing research on linking various files, on a sample basis, to provide an appreciably enhanced individual tax record for improved population coverage and expanded character- istic variables. However, this research has been set aside for the time being, primarily because changes to the tax system that will cause more low-income Canadians to file returns are expected to make it easier to address the main coverage issues without embarking on further record linkages with their atten- dant privacy concerns. Canada's program of postcensal population estimates is similar to that of the United States but somewhat more elaborate in the characteristic detail available. Estimates of total population by age group and sex are prepared for geographic areas down to the census division (or county) level; data on age, sex, marital status, and number of families by type are provided for provinces and territories (Statistics Canada, 1987) The main administrative record file used to generate population estimates is the Revenue Canada taxation file. The Tax Act provides for the transmission of copies of records held by Revenue Canada to Statistics Canada to meet the needs of the latter's estimation program. (Such legal and continuous access to the file is a basic underpinning of any postcensal estimate program dependent on admin- istrative records.) The methodology for measuring net and interarea migration is essentially the same as that for the United States. Individual tax records are matched for successive periods using Social Insurance Number as the main match- ing key. Migration of tax filers and their dependents to and from geographic areas is determined directly from the addresses on the tax file. The dependents are enumerated from information reported by the tax filers: exemptions for
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ADMINISTRATIVE RECORDS 171 dependent spouse, exemptions for dependent children, claims for refundable tax credits for children, reporting of child care expenses, and the receipt of family allowance benefits. These imputations are made while creating the TIFF (T1 Family File, see description below) and are taken directly from it. Finally, an adjustment is made to the interarea migration estimates to benchmark them to an estimate of migration for the total population. Another administrative records file used extensively in the estimates pro- gram, at least until recently, was the family allowance program file, administered by Health and Welfare Canada. This program provided monthly payments to every eligible child under age 18 (with certain limitations). Until very recently, the program file covered essentially all children under age 15, and well over 90 percent of those ages 15-17. The main use of the file was to measure net interarea migration of the population under age 18 (the adult population was not covered) through reporting of change of address. To continue receiving their family allow- ance checks, recipients had to notify the regional office of Health and Welfare Canada of any change of address. These notifications, which were assumed to be fairly accurate and comprehensive, became the vehicle for measuring net interarea migration for the universe coverage. Family allowance files were also used as symptomatic indicators in a regression model to generate preliminary estimates of total population for census divisions. Recent legislation on the New Child Tax Benefit System which took effect on January 1, 1993-eliminated both the Family Allowance Program and the Child Tax Credit program. Extensive research is under way on the use of the new system as an input to migration estimation. An important lesson is that a program that depends on administrative records is always at risk of new legislation and other program changes that can affect consistency with the past, adequacy of coverage, and continued relevance of the new file to statistical program needs. The income tax system file is the backbone and main underpinning of Statis- tics Canada's administrative record work. Some other research projects under way and proposals for expanding uses of the basic individual income tax record file have included: (1) Expanding the individual tax record file to a tax filer family file, thereby creating families from the individual tax file. This is accom- plished by a six-step process of matching and imputation using information from each record within the tax file system, such as Social Insurance number, postal code, and surname, to name a few. (2) A proposed pilot study to compile an administrative record consolidation file by linking a number of records to the individual tax record or the tax filer family file. The files to be linked (20 percent sample) included Old Age Security, Social Assistance, Unemployment Insur- ance, and Family Allowance. The linking might improve population coverage as well as expand and improve characteristics variables. However, the project is not being pursued because the statistical benefits were not seen to outweigh privacy concerns. (3) Development of a longitudinal administrative database. In early 1988, discussions were undertaken to assess the conceptual feasibility of building
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72 COUNTING PEOPLE IN THE INFORMATION AGE a longitudinal database from administrative records. Plans were developed for a pilot study to determine whether it would be feasible to use administrative records to build a longitudinal database for social research and policy analysis. Initial plans called for use of a 10 percent sample created from tax filer families plus a 10 percent sample of Social Assistance recipients in two provinces, Quebec and Nova Scotia, that were not on the tax filer database. The longitudinal administra- tive database had been created for a 10 percent sample of those two sources for a 5-year period, 1982-1986. However, again because of privacy concerns about linking files from more than one source, this project was shelved in favor of a 1 percent longitudinal administrative database created entirely from the tax file with no other linkages (Leyes, 1990~. In summary, the Canadian experience illustrates that the unidimensional use of administrative records is extremely useful for postcensal estimates programs. The further potential benefits that can be achieved by matching, merging, and linking files of administrative records have to be weighed against privacy con- cerns associated with such activities and can be realized only if the privacy issues are satisfactorily resolved and public concerns alleviated. Matching and Informed Consent in Canada As stated, the value of administrative records for programmatic purposes can be increased significantly if different program records containing supplementary and complementary data can be linked to form larger databases. At the moment, such linkages are cause for concern by those who perceive such actions by the government as an invasion of privacy. As noted, linkage to administrative records can also be used to improve data quality and reduce respondent burden in cen- suses and surveys. In this context, Statistics Canada is considering the feasibility of obtaining income information by linking Revenue Canada tax records with records of respondents to Statistics Canada income surveys (Greenberg, 1993~. As part of this investigation, a question about permission was asked of a subsample of respondents to the August 1993 Labor Force Survey. Respondents were asked whether they would give permission for Statistics Canada to get their income information directly from Revenue Canada, if they were asked to partici- pate in a Statistics Canada income survey. The results showed that 55 to 62 percent of respondents would be willing to allow access to their files under the stated conditions. The permission rate varied little by geographic area or demo- graphic group. An analysis of the results suggested that there would be benefits if a mixture of interviewing and linkages were used, particularly since many nonrespondents (to the Survey of Consumer Finances) said they would give permission to access their income tax records (Greenberg, 1993~. More research is warranted into this area of permission and informed consent for linking indi- vidual records.
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ADMINISTRATIVE RECORDS 173 Summary In this section, we have identified several new ways in which administrative records might be used for statistical purposes not directly related to the decennial census. A vigorous effort to explore and develop some of these uses would serve two important purposes. First, such an effort would bring knowledge and expe- rience that would greatly assist the Census Bureau in future decisions about a greater role for administrative records in the decennial census. Second, it could add substantial value to the Census Bureau's current demographic data programs by providing data more frequently and with greater geographic and subject matter detail. These two purposes were described in a convincing manner by the Panel on Census Requirements in the Year 2000 and Beyond (Committee on National Statistics, 1993a) in its interim report. Concerning the first goal, the panel said (pp. 25-26~: We recommend (see above) that an important first step in examining adminis- trative records is to begin working with them now. If administrative records are to have an expanded use in the decennial census, then there is an urgent need to start to exploit them more heavily for intercensal estimates.... Although the Bureau of the Census has been using administrative records for years, their expanded use for intercensal estimates would provide the necessary experience that is needed for assessing their potential for the decennial census. Concerning the second goal, the panel's view was expressed (p. 26~: Another rationale exists for using administrative records for intercensal esti- mates. Census data are available only every 10 years.... On average ... U.S. small-area estimates are approximately 8 years old over the decade of their use flaking account of the 3-year lag between the census date and initial availabili- ty]. Administrative records have the potential to provide much more frequent information for small geographic areas, on important variables such as popula- tion and housing counts, poverty, and income. In the final section of this chapter, this panel advocates adoption, by the Census Bureau, of a proactive policy for increased statistical use of administra- tive records. Uses not directly related to the decennial census should be an important component of that effort. Recommendation 5.10: The Census Bureau should substantially in- crease the scope of its efforts to use administrative records to produce intercensal small-area tabulations, either through stand-alone tabula- tions of data from one or more administrative record sources or by combining such data with data from current surveys. One step that could bring immediate benefits would be to begin supplementing the individual tax return extract data, which the Internal Revenue Service has
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74 COUNTING PEOPLE IN THE INFORMATION AGE been providing annually to the Census Bureau, with data from informational documents submitted to the Internal Revenue Service. Although tabulations of merged files of tax returns and informational documents prepared by the Internal Revenue Service would be of some value, transmission of extract files to the Census Bureau would be preferable, for the reasons described above. Important benefits would also result from any steps that can be taken to add race and ethnic information to the Social Security Administration's NUMIDENT file for all new- born infants and for other persons for whom it is missing or incomplete. As opportunities present themselves, new health care enrollment records should be brought into the picture. The timetable for development of standard- ized national health care enrollment records is uncertain at this writing, but it is quite possible that some states will lead the way by developing their own auto- mated health care information systems. Experience working with state record systems will give the Census Bureau an opportunity to judge their suitability for statistical uses and to develop recommendations for national standards that will facilitate statistical uses. SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS The mission of statistical agencies is to meet the information needs of gov- ernment and society as effectively and efficiently as possible, using all available sources of information. The primary sources of statistical information about people are censuses, statistical surveys, and a large and diverse set of administra- tive record systems that have been created primarily for nonstatistical purposes. There are several ways in which administrative records have been or might be used to help satisfy needs for small-area demographic data: 1. As an adjunct to a conventional decennial census of population, to im- prove coverage, reduce costs, make collection operations more efficient, and evaluate census coverage and quality. 2. As the primary source of census information, to be supplemented by other sources of data only to the extent necessary. 3. To produce stand-alone tabulations of small-area data from a single ad- ministrative records system or a combination of systems, as discussed by the Census Requirements Panel in Appendix B of its interim report and in the preced- ing section of this chapter. 4. As inputs to a system of current population estimates designed to provide periodic counts of people classified by age, sex, and race/ethnic status for geo- graphic units defined in as much detail as possible. To the extent that the neces- sary data are available from administrative records, other variables, like income, might be included. 5. As part of a continuous measurement system of surveys designed to pro- vide estimates of census long-form data on a continuing basis for areas down to the tract or block-group level. Small area counts based on an administrative
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ADMINISTRATIVE RECORDS 175 records could be used in the sample design and estimation process to reduce the sample sizes needed for the surveys to provide small-area data at acceptable levels of reliability. For the first category, using administrative records as an adjunct to a conven- tional census, we have identified and discussed several possible uses in the 2000 census and plans for testing and evaluating them in the 1995 census test. The second possibility, a census based primarily on administrative records, has been realized in a few western European countries, but is clearly not feasible for the 2000 census in the United States. We believe, however, that it should be seri- ously considered as an option for the 2010 census and that the Census Bureau should continue to explore and evaluate it in a systematic way. In this context, the Census Bureau should give special attention to new health care records that may be developed to implement the reform of the health care system in the United States. However, simply shifting from a twentieth century conventional decennial census to a twenty-first century model based on administrative records is not the only possible and perhaps not the most promising paradigm for counting people in the information age. It is unlikely that an administrative records census could provide all of the content items that have been included on the long-form ques- tionnaire in recent censuses. Alternative paradigms should be identified and evaluated. One long-range goal might be to establish an integrated demographic data system consisting of 3 elements: 1. Annual small-area population counts based entirely on administrative records. People would be classified by age, sex, and the official race/ethnic categories. 2. Continuous measurement surveys to provide long-form data for areas down to the census tract, block group, and school district levels. Data would be available annually for areas with more than 250,000 population and moving multiyear averages would be provided for smaller areas. 3. Integrated coverage measurement surveys, similar to those that have been proposed for the 2000 census, at least once every 10 years, possibly more often. The results of these surveys would be used to adjust the annual population counts and the estimates based on the continuous measurement surveys. The development of such a system is a pipe dream only if we limit ourselves to looking for reasons why it can't be done, rather than asking ourselves what steps would be necessary to accomplish it. To start moving in the direction of such a goal, it may be desirable to give increased attention and priority, for the time being, to uses of administrative records in the third, fourth, and fifth categories enumerated at the beginning of this section, all of which aim at enhancing the scope and content of intercensal demographic data programs. The potential benefits for current data programs are substantial, and such initiatives would provide much-needed experience in using
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76 COUNTING PEOPLE IN THE INFORMATION AGE existing and new administrative records systems for statistical purposes. The costs for uses of administrative records in categories 3 and 4 would be relatively low compared with the cost of a decennial census or a continuous measurement system with a large survey component. To the extent that continuous measurement and other programs are success- ful in better meeting user needs for small-area data and providing data more frequently, the pressures for long-form data on the decennial census should abate, thereby opening up the possibility for a relatively smooth transition to the kind of integrated demographic data system we have just outlined. We believe it is a mistake to think of administrative records only in terms of how they might be used to replace a traditional version of the decennial census, duplicating all of its major design features. This kind of thinking can be a straitjacket that inhibits creativity about how to develop an integrated demo- graphic data program that makes effective use of all available sources of data, taking into account relevance to user needs, cost, accuracy, frequency, and time- liness. It is somewhat akin to the frequently observed phenomenon that new technologies are often used at first only to replicate the uses of the old technologies. We have discussed some major federal and state administrative records sys- tems, existing and in prospect, that appear to have the greatest potential for demographic statistical uses. Internal Revenue Service and Social Security Ad- ministration record systems have been used for statistical purposes for many years, but now have substantial potential for enhanced use, as demonstrated by recent research on the coverage of merged files of tax returns and informational documents. The movement for health care reform brings the prospect of a new national system of records that may have close to universal coverage and may include some of the basic variables, especially race and ethnicity, that are not adequately represented in other systems of administrative records. Reforms to welfare programs may lead to better coverage, in the associated record systems, of people who tend to be more difficult to enumerate by conventional methods. Finally, the continuously updated Master Address File/TIGER system, to which the Census Bureau is now committed, will provide a hitherto unavailable capac- ity for using administrative data from different sources and assigning units to their correct geographic locations. The future holds attractive prospects for using administrative records as the keystone in developing a greatly improved small-area demographic data system that can provide data more frequently at no increase and possibly a significant reduction in costs over the decade. However, these prospects can only be realized if the Census Bureau, with support from the Office of Management and Budget's Statistical Policy Office, other federal agencies, and the Congress, adopts a proactive policy to explore expanded uses of administrative records. To maxi- mize the likelihood of success, a proactive policy should include the following elements: . A determination, not just to make use of existing administrative records
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ADMINISTRATIVE RECORDS 177 systems, but to play an active part, in cooperation with program agencies, in the development of new systems and in modification of existing systems to improve their utility for statistical uses. · A suitable organizational unit and adequate resources for research and development activities not tied directly to ongoing census and survey programs. However, some of the exploratory research should be directed at existing pro- grams, especially at the use of administrative records to improve current popula- tion estimates and small-area data for use in funds allocation. Hands-on experi- ence is an essential part of learning to use administrative records effectively. Resources devoted to this effort should support work done by contractors and census fellows or under other external arrangements as well as in-house research and development activities. · A determination to take advantage of every possible occasion to explore the long-range as well as immediate potential for using administrative records. For example, the 1995 census test should be seen as an opportunity, not only to test uses that are being considered for the 2000 census, but also to acquire infor- mation about administrative records that will be of value for uses in current population estimate programs or censuses after 2000. Similarly, forward-looking experiments with the use of administrative records should be part of the research program associated with the 2000 census. · Access to a national integrated, continuously updated MAF1IGER system. · Full and continuing awareness of the concerns of individuals whose infor- mation is contained in administrative records that are being used for statistical purposes and recognition of the importance of their views about what kinds of uses are acceptable. Since its beginnings, the Census Bureau has been in the forefront of many important advances in information technology, including the development and application of sampling theory in censuses and surveys, automation of data col- lection and processing operations, development of response error models, and application of tools from cognitive psychology and social anthropology to under- stand and improve data collection procedures. A proactive policy to develop enhanced uses of administrative records would be in keeping with the Census Bureau's tradition of innovation and adaptation to the technical and social envi- ronment in which it carries out its mission as fact-finder for the nation. Recommendation 5.11: The panel urges the Census Bureau to adopt a proactive policy to expand its uses of administrative records, and it urges other executive branch agencies and Congress to give their sup port to such a policy. Any proactive policy has some risks associated with it, but the panel believes that the risks are justified by the potential benefits. Clinging to the twentieth century census model in a twenty-first century data collection environment could well prove to be even more risky.
Representative terms from entire chapter: