One reason for establishing a separate statistical agency, rather than leaving statistical data compilation and dissemination activities as a part of a larger administrative operation, is to emphasize the principles and qualities of an effective statistical agency, for example, professional standards and confidentiality, as well as consistency of classifications or breadth of coverage. Another reason is to encourage research and the development of new information in a particular area of public interest. Statistical agencies disseminate data for statistical purposes, not for administrative, regulatory or enforcement uses.
This definition of a federal statistical agency does not include many statistical activities of the federal government because they are not performed by distinct units or because they do not result in the dissemination of statistics to others—for example, statistics compiled by the Postal Service to set rates or by the Department of Defense to test weapons. Nor are agencies whose primary functions are the conduct or support of research included, although much of the research may be based on information gathered by statistical means, for example, in national laboratories.
Finally, although many statistical agencies perform some policy analysis functions for their departments, units whose primary function is policy analysis (e.g., Office of Tax Analysis in Treasury, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation in the Department of Health and Human Services) are not usually considered statistical agencies. As pointed out below, it is important to statistical agencies to be considered policy neutral. The dividing line between statistical projections and policy analysis is a narrow one, and different administrators exercise individual judgment in setting it.
Our definition of a federal statistical agency is narrower than that used in the report A Framework for Planning U.S. Federal Statistics for the 1980's (U.S. Department of Commerce, 1978), in which many statistical activities performed by units that are not distinct entities are included. The report classified 38 agencies into five groupings (agencies are listed by current titles, not 1978 titles):
General Coordination Agency
Office of Statistical Policy in the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, Office of Management and Budget
Core Multipurpose Collection Agencies
Bureau of the Census, Department of Commerce
Bureau of Labor Statistics, Department of Labor
National Agricultural Statistics Service, Department of Agriculture
Subject Matter Multipurpose Collection Agencies
Bureau of Justice Statistics, Department of Justice