A STATISTICAL AGENCY should recruit, develop, and support professional staff who are committed to the highest standards of quality work, professional practice, and professional ethics. To develop and maintain a high-caliber staff, a statistical agency needs to recruit qualified people with relevant skills for efficient and effective operations, including subject-matter experts in fields relevant to its mission (e.g., demographers, economists), statistical methodologists who specialize in data collection and analysis, and other skilled staff (e.g., computer specialists). Having sufficient in-house staff with the required types of expertise is as critical as having adequate budget resources for enabling a statistical agency to carry out its mission.
To retain and make the most effective use of its staff, an agency should provide opportunities for work on challenging projects in addition to more routine, production-oriented assignments. An agency’s personnel policies, supported with sufficient resources, should enable staff to extend their technical capabilities through appropriate professional and developmental activities, such as attendance and participation in professional meetings, participation in relevant training programs, rotation of assignments, and involvement in collaborative activities with other statistical agencies.
An agency should also seek opportunities to reinforce the commitment of its staff to ethical standards of practice. Such standards are the foundation of an agency’s credibility as a source of relevant, accurate, and timely information obtained through fair treatment of data providers and data users.
An effective federal statistical agency has personnel policies that encourage the development and retention of a strong professional staff who
are committed to the highest standards of quality work for their agency and in collaboration with other agencies. There are several key elements of such policies:
- The required levels of technical and professional qualifications for positions in the agency are identified, and the agency adheres to these requirements in recruitment and staff development. Position requirements take account of the different kinds of technical and other skills, such as supervisory skills, that are necessary for an agency to have a full range of qualified staff. Qualified staff include: statisticians and survey methodologists; experts in relevant subject-matter areas; experts in leading-edge technologies and methods for information storage, processing, estimation, data quality assessment, confidentiality protection, dissemination, and curation; and experts in management of complex, technical operations.
- Continuing technical education and training, appropriate to the needs of their positions, is provided to staff through in-house training programs and opportunities for external education and training.
- Position responsibilities are structured to ensure that staff have the opportunity to participate, in ways appropriate to their experience and expertise, in research and development activities to improve quality of data and cost-effectiveness of agency operations.
- Professional activities, such as publishing in refereed journals and presentations at conferences, are encouraged and recognized. Such presentations should include technical work in progress, with appropriate disclaimers. Participation in relevant statistical and other scientific associations, including leadership positions, is encouraged to promote interactions with researchers and methodologists in other organizations that can advance the state of the art. Such participation is also a mechanism for disseminating information about an agency’s programs, including the sources and limitations of the data provided (see Practice 4). Guidance from the Office of Science and Technology Policy issued in 2010 stresses the importance of participation in professional activities as a means of ensuring a culture of scientific integrity in federal agencies (see Appendix A).
- Interaction with other professionals inside and outside the agency is fostered through opportunities to participate in technical advisory committee meetings, establish and be active in relevant listservs and blogs, interact with contract researchers and research consultants on substantive matters, interact with visiting fellows and staff detailed from other agencies, take assignments with other relevant statistical, policy, or research organizations, and regularly receive new assignments within the agency.
- Participation in cross-agency collaboration efforts, such as the Federal Committee on Statistical Methodology and its subcommittees, is supported. Such participation not only benefits the professional staff of an agency, but also contributes to improving the work of the statistical system as a whole (see Practice 13).
- Accomplishment is rewarded by appropriate recognition and by affording opportunities for further professional development. The prestige and credibility of a statistical agency is enhanced by the professional visibility of its staff, which may include establishing high-level nonmanagement positions for highly qualified technical experts.
An effective statistical agency considers carefully the costs and benefits—both monetary and nonmonetary—of using contractor organizations, not only for data collection, as most agencies do, but also to supplement in-house staff in other areas, such as carrying out methodological research.86 Outsourcing can have benefits, such as: providing experts in areas in which the agency is unlikely to be able to attract highly qualified in-house staff (e.g., some information technology functions), enabling an agency to handle an increase in its workload that is expected to be temporary or that requires specialized skills, and allowing an agency to learn from best industry practices. However, outsourcing can also have costs, including that agency staff become primarily contract managers and less qualified as technical experts and leaders in their fields.
An effective statistical agency maintains and develops a sufficiently large number of in-house staff, including mathematical statisticians, survey researchers, subject-matter specialists, and information technology experts, who are qualified to analyze the agency’s data and to plan, design, carry out, and evaluate its core operations, so that the agency maintains the integrity of its data and its credibility in planning and fulfilling its mission. At the same time, statistical agencies should maintain and develop staff with the expertise necessary for effective technical and administrative oversight of contractors.
An effective statistical agency has policies and practices to instill the highest possible commitment to professional ethics among its staff, as well as procedures for monitoring contractor compliance with ethical standards. When an agency comes under pressure to act against its principles—for example, if it is asked to disclose confidential information for an enforcement purpose or to support an inaccurate interpretation of its data—it must be
86 Only the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Census Bureau maintain their own interviewing staffs. The National Agricultural Statistics Service contracts with the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture for field interviewing staff, and other agencies contract with the Census Bureau or private survey contractors.
able to rely on its staff to resist such actions as contrary to the ethical principles of their profession.
An effective agency ensures that its staff are aware of and have access to such statements of professional practice as those of the American Association for Public Opinion Research (2015), the American Statistical Association (2016), and the International Statistical Institute (2010), as well as to the agency’s own policies and practices regarding such matters as the protection of confidentiality, respect for privacy, and standards for data quality. It endeavors in other ways to ensure that its staff are fully cognizant of the ethics that must guide their actions in order for the agency to maintain its credibility as a source of objective, reliable information for use by all.