Principles and Practices for a
Federal Statistical Agency
Committee on National Statistics
Constance F. Citro, Editor
Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education
A Consensus Study Report of
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This activity was supported by Grant No. SES-1024012 between the National Academy of Sciences and the National Science Foundation, which provides support for the work of the Committee on National Statistics from a consortium of federal agencies. Also supporting the Committee’s work are a cooperative agreement from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, to which several agencies contribute, and individual agreements with agencies in the U.S. Departments of Commerce, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, and Treasury. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reﬂect the views of any organization or agency that provided support for the project.
International Standard Book Number-13: 978-0-309-46167-2
International Standard Book Number-10: 0-309-46167-7
Digital Object Identifier: https://doi.org/10.17226/24810
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Suggested citation: National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. (2017). Principles and Practices for a Federal Statistical Agency, Sixth Edition. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/24810.
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COMMITTEE ON NATIONAL STATISTICS
LAWRENCE D. BROWN (Chair), Department of Statistics, The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania
FRANCINE BLAU, Department of Economics, Cornell University
MARY ELLEN BOCK, Department of Statistics, Purdue University (emerita)
MICHAEL CHERNEW, Department of Health Care Policy, Harvard Medical School
JANET CURRIE, Department of Economics, Princeton University
DONALD A. DILLMAN, Social and Economic Sciences Research Center, Washington State University
CONSTANTINE GATSONIS, Department of Biostatistics and Center for Statistical Sciences, Brown University
JAMES S. HOUSE, Survey Research Center, Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
THOMAS L. MESENBOURG, U.S. Census Bureau (retired)
SUSAN A. MURPHY, Department of Statistics and Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan
SARAH M. NUSSER, Office of the Vice President for Research and Department of Statistics, Iowa State University
COLM A. O’MUIRCHEARTAIGH, Harris School of Public Policy Studies, University of Chicago
RUTH D. PETERSON, Criminal Justice Research Center and Department of Sociology, Ohio State University (emerita)
ROBERTO RIGOBON, Sloan School of Management, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
EDWARD H. SHORTLIFFE, Department of Biomedical Informatics, Columbia University and Arizona State University
CONSTANCE F. CITRO, Director
BRIAN HARRIS-KOJETIN, Deputy Director
EILEEN LEFURGY, Program Coordinator
THIS SIXTH EDITION OF Principles and Practices for a Federal Statistical Agency (known as P&P) is dedicated to Miron L. Straf, third director (1987–1999) of the Committee on National Statistics (CNSTAT), who originated the concept for this report. He coedited the first (1992) edition with the late Margaret E. Martin, coedited the second, third, and fourth editions with Martin and Constance F. Citro, and coedited the fifth edition with Citro.
Straf joined CNSTAT in 1977 and served as its research director before becoming its director. He contributed to CNSTAT studies on environmental monitoring, sharing research data, cognitive aspects of survey methodology (for which he received the Innovators Award of the American Association for Public Opinion Research), and statistical assessments as evidence in the courts. During his time with CNSTAT, he developed over 50 major studies and over 40 conferences on the application of statistics to public policy. He has served the statistics and social science professions in many other ways, including as president of the American Statistical Association (ASA). He is a fellow of the ASA and the Royal Statistical Society and an elected member of the International Statistical Institute.
Following his directorship of CNSTAT, Straf worked at the National Science Foundation to develop the research priorities for the social, behavioral, and economic sciences. He then served as deputy director of the Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education at the National Research Council, where his projects included studies that produced the reports Using Science as Evidence in Public Policy and Furthering America’s Research Enterprise. He is a visiting scholar in the Social and Decision Analytics Laboratory of the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute of Virginia Tech.
THE COMMITTEE ON NATIONAL STATISTICS (CNSTAT) is a standing unit of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, established in 1972 to provide an independent, objective resource for evaluating and improving the work of the decentralized federal statistical system. Under the terms of the 1863 congressional charter to the National Academy of Sciences to provide advice to the government on scientific and technical matters, CNSTAT has assessed a wide range of statistical methods and data sources for information that the public and policy makers need. It has evaluated numerous federal statistical programs, such as censuses and surveys, and addressed a range of statistical policy issues, such as the independence required for statistical agencies to be credible with policy makers, data users and the public, regardless of persuasion or party.
From time to time in its early years, CNSTAT was asked for advice on what constitutes an effective federal statistical agency. When consulted by congressional staff on the matter in the late 1980s and early 1990s during legislative debates over the (unsuccessful) establishment of a Bureau of Environmental Statistics and the (successful) establishment of a Bureau of Transportation Statistics, CNSTAT decided to prepare a document of high-level guidance. The result, Principles and Practices for a Federal Statistical Agency, was published in 1992. It defined and discussed reasons for the establishment of a statistical agency, identified three fundamental principles for an effective statistical agency (relevance to policy, credibility with data users, and trust of data providers), and identified 11 practices to enable a statistical agency to operationalize and adhere to the principles. A separate “commentary” section discussed each principle and practice in greater detail, drawing on relevant CNSTAT reports for illustration.
When it became clear not only that the 1992 document served a useful purpose for the federal statistical community, but also that it needed to
be updated to respond to changes in the political, economic, social, and technological environment for statistical agency work, CNSTAT decided to prepare a new edition with additional examples from its reports. The second edition was released in 2001, and subsequent editions have been released every 4 years to be available to new appointees and others at the beginning of a presidential term of office. Officials in the various cabinet departments and independent agencies that house federal statistical agencies are not always cognizant about what is proper for these agencies to be credible sources of objective, relevant, accurate, and timely statistics. The document is designed to assist them, as well as the statistical agencies’ leadership and staff, to be fully aware of the standards and ideals that are fundamental to the agencies’ work.
Each of the second–sixth editions has included the three original principles. The fourth edition, in light of some threats to independence, elevated statistical agency independence from a practice to a fourth principle. In addition to the four principles, this sixth edition has 13 practices, most of which were in the original 1992 edition; a few others have been added or reworded in subsequent editions based on the conclusions and recommendations in CNSTAT study reports.
This sixth edition has a new format: Part I defines and identifies reasons to establish a statistical agency, brieﬂy relates the U.S. statistical system’s evolution over time, and discusses the value of federal statistics; Part II explicates and comments on each principle; and Part III does the same for each practice. Two appendixes provide updated information on legislation and regulations that govern federal statistics and the organization of the federal statistical system.
CNSTAT thanks the many people who contributed their time and expertise to the preparation of this report. We are most appreciative of their cooperation and assistance.
We are particularly grateful to the CNSTAT staff, including director Constance Citro, along with Daniel Cork, Brian Harris-Kojetin, and Eileen LeFurgy. This edition, like its predecessors, benefited from the editing of Eugenia Grohman of the Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. In addition, we owe to her the concept for reorganizing the sixth edition to be more accessible to readers. We are also indebted to many others who offered valuable comments and suggestions, too numerous to mention.
This Consensus Study Report was reviewed in draft form by individuals chosen for their diverse perspectives and technical expertise. The purpose of this independent review is to provide candid and critical comments that will assist the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine in making each published report as sound as possible and to ensure that it meets the institutional standards for quality, objectivity, evidence, and
responsiveness to the study charge. The review comments and draft manuscript remain confidential to protect the integrity of the deliberative process.
We thank the following individuals for their review of this report: Mary Jo Hoeksema, Director, Government Affairs, Population Association of America/Association of Population Centers; Felice J. Levine, Executive Director, American Educational Research Association; James P. Lynch, Professor and Chair, Criminology and Criminal Justice Department, University of Maryland; Miron L. Straf, Social and Decision Analytics Laboratory, Virginia Bioinformatics Institute, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, National Capital Region, Arlington, VA; Roger Tourangeau, Vice President and Associate Director, Westat, Inc.; and Katherine K. Wallman, Chief Statistician (retired), Statistical and Science Policy Office, U.S. Office of Management and Budget.
Although the reviewers listed above provided many constructive comments and suggestions, they were not asked to endorse the conclusions or recommendations of this report nor did they see the final draft before its release. The review of this report was overseen by Daniel Kasprzyk, Senior Fellow, NORC at the University of Chicago. He was responsible for making certain that an independent examination of this report was carried out in accordance with the standards of the National Academies and that all review comments were carefully considered. Responsibility for the final content rests entirely with the authoring committee and the National Academies.
Finally, we thank the many federal agencies that support the Committee on National Statistics directly and through a grant from the National Science Foundation, a cooperative agreement from the National Agricultural Statistics Service, and several individual contracts. Without their support and their commitment to improving the national statistical system, the committee work that is the basis of this report would not have been possible.
Lawrence D. Brown, Chair
Committee on National Statistics
The 1980 Paperwork Reduction Act, as Reauthorized and Amended in 1995, and Associated 2006 Implementation Guidance (Guidance on Agency Survey and Statistical Information Collections—Questions and Answers When Designing Surveys for Information Collections (issued 2006)), also the 1942 Federal Reports Act and the 1950 Budget and Accounting Procedures Act
Statistical Policy Directive No. 14: Definition of Poverty for Statistical Purposes (updated 1978); also, the 2010 Observations from the Interagency Technical Working Group on Developing a Supplemental Poverty Measure
Standards for Maintaining, Collecting, and Presenting Federal Data on Race and Ethnicity (originally issued as Statistical Policy Directive No. 15; revised 1997; including potential changes to the standards)
List of Figures and Boxes
I.2 Principal statistical agencies, rotating ICSP members, other recognized statistical units, and the Statistical and Science Policy Office, by congressional appropriations committee and parent department/agency.