The Committee on National Statistics (CNSTAT) has, since 1992, published a report on principles and practices for a federal statistical agency, which draws from CNSTAT’s many reports on specific agencies, programs, and topics. This report has been widely cited and used by Congress and federal agencies; it has helped shape legislation and executive actions to establish and evaluate statistical agencies; the U.S. Office of Management and Budget has cited it in guidance; and the U.S. Government Accountability Office has used it as a benchmark in reports to Congress. Statistical agencies have used it to inform new appointees, advisory committees, members of Congress and their staff, their own staff, and others about what constitutes an effective and credible statistical organization. Beginning with the second edition in 2001, CNSTAT committed to updating the document every 4 years to provide a current edition to newly appointed cabinet secretaries and other personnel at the beginning of each presidential administration (or second term).
The committee had the following statement of work for this volume:
In response to recurring requests for advice on what constitutes an effective federal statistical agency, CNSTAT issued the first edition of Principles and Practices for a Federal Statistical Agency (P&P) in 1992. In early 2001, 2005, and 2009, CNSTAT issued the second, third, and fourth editions, respectively, which reiterated the basic principles for federal statistical agencies, revised and expanded the discussion of some of the practices for an effective statistical agency, and updated the discussion with references to recent reports
by CNSTAT and others. Changes in laws, regulations, and other aspects of the environment of federal statistical agencies over the past 4 years warrant preparation of a fifth edition, which the committee will prepare for release in early 2013.
All of the committee’s work is based on the key concepts of principles and practices. “Principles” are fundamental and intrinsic to the concept of a federal statistical agency; “practices” are ways and means of making the basic principles operational and facilitating an agency’s adherence to them.
This fifth edition presents and comments on four basic principles that statistical agencies must embody in order to carry out their mission fully: (1) they must produce data that are relevant to policy issues; (2) they must achieve and maintain credibility among data users; (3) they must achieve and maintain trust among data providers; and (4) they must achieve and maintain independence from the appearance and reality of political or other undue external influence in developing, producing, and disseminating statistics.
This edition also discusses 13 important practices that are the means for statistical agencies to implement the four principles. Some of these practices are continual development of more useful data, openness about sources and limitations of the data provided, a commitment to quality and professional standards of practice, a strong internal and external evaluation program, and coordination and collaboration with other statistical agencies. A new practice for this edition concerns the authority that is necessary for an agency to protect its independence. This edition also divides the practice of fair treatment of data providers into two practices: respect for privacy and autonomy of data providers and protection of the confidentiality of providers’ information.
In addition to this Introduction, this edition adds an Executive Summary (which is available separately), largely in response to users’ requests. The two main parts are those used in previous editions: Part I is a brief statement of the principles and practices for an effective statistical agency; Part II further explains, defines, and illustrates those principles and practices.
The fifth edition emphasizes the need for statistical agencies not only to actively seek out new ways of using multiple data sources (such as administrative records, private-sector datasets, and selected Internet sources in addition to surveys), but also to find new ways to integrate their activities with those of other agencies. The goal is to enable agencies to maintain and improve the relevance, accuracy, timeliness, and cost-effectiveness of
their data in the face of the significant challenges they now face, including the increasing costs of obtaining responses from people, households, and organizations to traditional survey inquiries and increasingly constrained budgets for statistical activities.
The appendixes to this edition update material included in previous editions and add new information to help orient readers. Appendix A summarizes key legislation and regulations that affect federal statistical agencies, such as the Confidential Information Protection and Statistical Efficiency Act of 2002; statistical policy directives of the U.S. Office of Management and Budget that govern the release of statistical products and provide guidelines for statistical surveys; and the December 2010 Memorandum on Scientific Integrity of the Office of Science and Technology Policy. Appendix B provides an overview of the organization of the U.S. federal statistical system, which is one of the most decentralized in the developed world, and compares the size of the system to the size of the federal government as a whole. Appendix C reproduces the Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics of the United Nations Statistical Commission (for which the Preamble is currently being updated by the international community). Appendix D reproduces the European Statistics Code of Practice for the National and Community Statistical Authorities. Appendix E provides addresses of Internet sites for major federal agencies that provide statistical data.
Although focused on federal statistical agencies, many of the principles and practices articulated here likely also apply to statistical activities elsewhere, such as in federal policy, evaluation, research, and program agencies, in state and local government agencies, and in other countries. The principles and practices in this report remain guidelines, not prescriptions. We intend them to assist statistical agencies and to inform policy makers, data users, and others about the characteristics of statistical agencies that enable them to serve the public good.