Principles and Practices for a Federal Statistical Agency

Definition of a Federal Statistical Agency

Principles of a Federal Statistical Agency

Relevance to Policy Issues

Credibility Among Data Users

Trust Among Data Providers and Data Subjects

Practices of a Federal Statistical Agency

A Clearly Defined and Well-Accepted Mission

A Strong Measure of Independence

Fair Treatment of Data Providers

Cooperation with Data Users

Openness About the Data Provided

Commitment to Quality and Professional Standards

Wide Dissemination of Data

An Active Research Program

Professional Advancement of Staff

Caution in Conducting Nonstatistical Activities

Coordination with Other Statistical Agencies

Establishment of a Federal Statistical Agency



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Principles and Practices for a Federal Statistical Agency Principles and Practices for a Federal Statistical Agency Definition of a Federal Statistical Agency Principles of a Federal Statistical Agency Relevance to Policy Issues Credibility Among Data Users Trust Among Data Providers and Data Subjects Practices of a Federal Statistical Agency A Clearly Defined and Well-Accepted Mission A Strong Measure of Independence Fair Treatment of Data Providers Cooperation with Data Users Openness About the Data Provided Commitment to Quality and Professional Standards Wide Dissemination of Data An Active Research Program Professional Advancement of Staff Caution in Conducting Nonstatistical Activities Coordination with Other Statistical Agencies Establishment of a Federal Statistical Agency

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Principles and Practices for a Federal Statistical Agency 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. The theory and methods of the discipline of statistics and the practice of the profession of statistics are brought to bear on the collection or compilation of data, on producing information from the data, and on disseminating that information. The unit must be generally recognized as a distinct entity. It may be located within a cabinet department or an independent agency. Compilation may include direct collection of data from individuals, organizations, or establishments or the use of administrative records. It may include bringing together pieces of information from a variety of sources — including other statistical agencies—in order to produce a plan, such as the national income and product accounts. Analysis may take various forms, such as developing secondary indices, modeling, making projections, and interpreting data. It may include research and explanations of relationships between survey statistics at various levels of aggregation and other variables. The analysis should be impartial and objective. Dissemination means making information available to others in the executive branch, to Congress, and to the public. Statistical purposes include description, evaluation, analysis, inference, and research. Although an agency may collect data from individual respondents, administrative records, establishments, or other organizations, it does not do so for administrative, regulatory, or enforcement purposes. Indeed, it is not concerned with identifying an individual with a particular response, but rather, with describing patterns, trends, and relationships from groups of responses. PRINCIPLES FOR A FEDERAL STATISTICAL AGENCY Relevance to Policy Issues A federal statistical agency must be in a position to provide information relevant to issues of public policy. An agency's priorities are affected by issues and requirements of public policy and federal programs. In many cases, the provision of information to the public concerning a particular subject field is itself a public policy.

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Principles and Practices for a Federal Statistical Agency Users may be federal administrators, or policy makers, the Congress, state and local governments, academic researchers, or other groups and organizations affected by current or prospective federal policies and programs, or the public in general. In planning its statistical program, an agency should work closely with policy analysts in its department, other appropriate agencies in the executive branch, relevant committees and staff of the Congress, and appropriate nongovernmental groups. The statistics needed for some emerging issues may be identified first by such users or by academic researchers, public interest groups, state or local governments, or the public. Maintaining contact with users is an important function of a statistical agency. Credibility Among Data Users A federal statistical agency must have a relationship of mutual respect and trust with those who use its data and information. It is essential that an agency maintain credibility for itself and for its data and information. In particular, an agency must be perceived to be free of political interference and policy advocacy. Trust Among Data Providers and Data Subjects A federal statistical agency must have a relationship of mutual respect and trust with respondents who provide data and with all data subjects whose information it obtains. An agency must maintain credibility to its providers, by ensuring appropriate confidentiality of responses and informing respondents fully of the expected uses of their information. PRACTICES FOR A FEDERAL STATISTICAL AGENCY The effective operation of a federal statistical agency must begin, first, with a clearly defined and well-accepted mission; second, it must have a strong measure of independence. With these two prerequisites, effective operation involves a wide range of practices: fair treatment of data providers, cooperation with data users, openness about the data provided, commitment to quality and professional standards, wide dissemination of data, an active research program, professional advancement of staff, caution in conducting nonstatistical activities, and coordination with other statistical agencies.

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Principles and Practices for a Federal Statistical Agency A Clearly Defined and Well-Accepted Mission An agency's mission should include responsibility for assessing needs for information and determining sources of data, measurement methods, and efficient methods of collection and ensuring the public availability of needed data, including, if necessary, the establishment of a data collection program. A Strong Measure of Independence Circumstances of different agencies may govern the exact form independence takes. Some aspects of independence, not all of which are required, are the following: independence mandated in organic legislation or encouraged by organizational structure. In essence, a statistical agency must be distinct from the enforcement and policy-making activities carried out by the department in which the agency is located. To be credible, a statistical agency must clearly be impartial. It must avoid even the appearance that its collection and reporting of data might be manipulated for political purposes or that individually identifiable data might be turned over for administrative, regulatory, or enforcement purposes. independence of the agency head and recognition that he or she should be professionally qualified. Appointment by the President with approval by the Senate, for a specific term not coincident with that of the administration, strengthens the independence of an agency head. Direct access to the secretary of the department or head of the independent agency in which the statistical agency is located is important. broad authority over scope, content, and frequency of data collected, compiled, or published. Most statistical agencies have broad authority, limited by budgetary restraints, departmental pressures, Office of Management and Budget (OMB) review, and congressional mandates. primary authority for selection and promotion of professional staff. recognition by policy officials outside the statistical agency of its authority to release statistical information without prior clearance. authority for statistical agency heads and qualified staff to speak on the agency's statistical program before Congress, with congressional staff, and before public bodies. adherence to predetermined schedules in public release of important economic or other indicator data to prevent manipulation of release dates for political purposes. maintenance of a clear distinction between the release of statistical information and the policy interpretations of such statements by the secretary of the department, the President, or others.

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Principles and Practices for a Federal Statistical Agency Fair Treatment of Data Providers To maintain credibility and a relationship of respect and trust with data subjects and other data providers, an agency must observe fair information practices. Such practices include: policies and procedures to maintain the confidentiality of individual responses. An agency avoids activities that might lead to a misperception that confidentiality assurances have been breached. informing respondents of the conditions of participation in a data collection and the anticipated uses of the information. minimizing the contribution of time and effort asked of respondents, consistent with the purposes of the data collection activity. respecting the willingness of respondents to contribute to society by fairly representing the information they provide and by making it available for important uses. seeking opportunities, as appropriate, to assist data suppliers to make use of the data they themselves have provided. seeking the advice of respondents, as well as others, in planning the scope and content of its program, designing its data collection procedures, and determining its data products. Cooperation with Data Users A statistics agency should consult with a broad spectrum of users of its data in order to make its products more useful. It should: seek advice on data concepts, methods, and products in a variety of formal and informal ways, from data users as well as from professional and technical subject-matter experts. seek advice from external groups on its statistical program as a whole, on setting statistical priorities, and on the statistical methodologies it uses. endeavor to meet the needs for access to data while maintaining appropriate safeguards for the confidentiality of individual responses. exercise care to make its data equally accessible to all potential users. Openness About the Data Provided An agency should fully describe its data and comment on their relevance to specific major uses. It should describe the methods used, the assumptions made, the limitations of data, the manners by which data linkages are made, and the results of research on the methods and data.

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Principles and Practices for a Federal Statistical Agency Commitment to Quality and Professional Standards An agency should: develop strong staff expertise in the disciplines relevant to its mission as well as in the theory and practice of statistics. develop an understanding of the validity and accuracy of its data and convey the resulting measures of uncertainty to users. undertake ongoing quality assurance programs to improve data validity and reliability and to improve the processes of gathering, compiling, editing, and analyzing data. use modern statistical theory and sound statistical practice in all technical work. Statistical standards are published to guide professionals in the agency as well as external users. develop a strong and continuous relationship with appropriate professional statistical organizations. follow accepted standards in reports and other releases of data on definitions, documentation, descriptions of data collection methodology, measures of uncertainty, and discussions of possible sources of error. Wide Dissemination of Data Dissemination of data and information (basic series, analytic reports, press releases, public-use tapes) should be timely and public. Avenues of dissemination should be chosen to reach as broad a public as reasonably possible. Release of information should not be subject to actual or perceived political interference. An agency should have an established publications policy that describes, for a data collection program, the types of reports and other data releases to be made available, the audience to be served, and the frequency of release. A policy for the preservation of data should guide what data to retain and how they are to be archived for secondary analysis. An Active Research Program An effective statistical agency should have a research program that is integral to its activities: research on the substantive issues for which the data were compiled in order to develop analyses by those who are close to the data, to guide the survey design, improve concepts, understand the limitations of the data and suggest improvements.

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Principles and Practices for a Federal Statistical Agency research to evaluate and improve statistical methodology, in particular the identification and creation of new statistical measures, and research on ways to reduce the time and effort requested of respondents. research to improve an understanding of the role of the agency's information in the policy formation process, in order to make the data more relevant to policy concerns. Professional Advancement of Staff An agency must recruit and retain a professional staff of high caliber —both statisticians and analysts in fields relevant to its mission. Personnel policies should encourage staff to maintain and extend their capabilities through appropriate professional activities. Caution in Conducting Nonstatistical Activities An agency should release information identified with a specific organization or entity, such as a hospital or school, for a nonstatistical purpose only when such release would not conflict with the agency's mission and the practices described above. In particular, an agency should exercise care to assure that such nonstatistical activities do not jeopardize its trustworthiness in the eyes of data providers and credibility among data users. Coordination with Other Statistical Agencies Data sharing and statistical uses of administrative records make a statistical agency more effective as well as efficient. When separate data sets are collected and analyzed in such a way that they may be used in together, the value of each may be greatly enhanced (e.g., productivity estimates are ratios of outputs to inputs in which the numerators and denominators are frequently collected by different agencies). An effective statistical agency promotes such data linkages. When possible and appropriate, federal statistical agencies should cooperate with state and local statistical agencies in the provision of data for subnational areas. Federal statistical agencies should cooperate also with foreign and international statistical agencies to exchange information, on both data and methods, and to develop common classifications and procedures to promote international comparability of information.

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Principles and Practices for a Federal Statistical Agency ESTABLISHMENT OF A FEDERAL STATISTICAL AGENCY The establishment a federal statistical agency, separate from operating units of a department or agency, may be considered for a number of reasons: There is a need for information extending beyond the narrow scope of individual operating units and possibly involving other departments and agencies. There is a need, in fact or as a matter of credibility, to establish the independence of major data series from policy or operating control. There is a need to protect the confidentiality of responses. There is an opportunity to achieve greater efficiency or higher quality through a consolidated and more highly professional activity.