THE U.S. FEDERAL STATISTICAL SYSTEM consists of many agencies in different departments, each with its own mission and subject-matter focus (see the history section in Part I and Appendix B). Yet these agencies have a common interest in serving the public need for credible, relevant, accurate, and timely information gathered as efficiently and fairly as possible. Moreover, needed information may often span the mission areas of more than one statistical agency: for example, both the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the National Center for Education Statistics have programs that relate to education and employment outcomes of the population. Consequently, statistical agencies should not and do not conduct their activities in isolation. An effective statistical agency actively seeks opportunities to conduct research and carry out other activities in collaboration with other statistical agencies to enhance the value of its own information and that of the system as a whole. Such collaboration is essential for smaller statistical agencies with limited resources and equally important for larger agencies so that they do not overlook useful innovations outside their own agency.
When possible and appropriate, federal statistical agencies should collaborate not only with each other, but also with policy, research, and program agencies in their departments, with state and local statistical agencies, and with foreign and international statistical agencies. Such collaborations can serve many purposes, including: standardization of concepts, measures, and classifications (see, e.g., National Research Council,
2004b,c, and Appendix A); augmentation of available information for cross-national and subnational comparisons (see, e.g., National Research Council, 2000c,d); identification of useful new data sources and data products; and improvements in many aspects of statistical program design and methods.
ROLE OF THE U.S. OFFICE OF MANAGEMENT AND BUDGET
The responsibility for coordinating statistical work in the federal government is specifically assigned to the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) in the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) (see Appendix A). The Statistical and Science Policy (SSP) Office in OIRA, typically with the assistance of interagency committees, reviews concepts of interest to more than one agency (e.g., gender and race/ethnicity classifications) and oversees the development and periodic revision of standard classification systems (of industries, metropolitan areas, etc.). It also considers methods and data sources that should be widely adopted, such as the statistical use of administrative records, and works to establish common goals and norms on major statistical issues, such as confidentiality protection. SSP staff also consult with other parts of OMB on statistical budgets and, by reviewing statistical information collections as well as the statistical programs of the government as a whole, identify data gaps, programs that may be duplicative, and areas in which interagency cooperation might lead to greater efficiency and added utility of data.91 SSP also is responsible for coordinating U.S. participation in international statistical activities.92
SSP established and contributes to the interagency Federal Committee on Statistical Methodology (FCSM), which issues guidelines and recommendations on statistical issues common to a number of agencies, typically by working through subcommittees.93 FCSM also hosts research conferences and statistical policy seminars that facilitate professional interaction and development.94 SSP encourages the Committee on National Statistics at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine to serve as an
91 SSP annually prepares a compilation of information on the full range of federal statistical programs; the latest volume, known as the “Blue Book,” is for fiscal 2017 (U.S. Office of Management and Budget, 2017).
92 SSP was formerly the Statistical Policy Office: it was renamed to reﬂect added responsibilities with respect to the 2001 Information Quality Act standards and guidelines, OMB’s guidance on peer review planning and implementation, and evaluations of science underlying proposed regulatory actions (see Appendix A).
94 Presentations from the most recent FCSM research conference and statistical policy seminar, respectively, are available at: https://fcsm.sites.usa.gov/reports/research/2015-research/ [April 2017] and http://www.copafs.org/seminars/fcsm2014policy.aspx [April 2017].
independent adviser and reviewer of federal statistical activities. Finally, SSP chairs the Interagency Council on Statistical Policy as a mechanism for statistical agency heads to work together with OMB to coordinate federal statistical programs for the common good (see Appendix B).95
FORMS OF INTERAGENCY COLLABORATION
Interagency collaboration and coordination takes many forms, some multilateral, some bilateral. Many result from common interests in specific subject areas, such as economic statistics, statistics on people with disabilities, or statistics on children or the elderly. Current interagency collaborative efforts include a systemwide initiative to facilitate the statistical uses of administrative records and other nonsurvey data sources;96 a multiagency program for research on survey methodology administered by the National Science Foundation’s Division of Social and Economic Sciences on behalf of the federal statistical agencies; a collaboration of the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Census Bureau to update the supplemental poverty measure; and continued work on internationally comparable measures of disability led by the Washington Group on Disability Statistics established under the United Nations Statistical Commission (for a description, see U.S. Office of Management and Budget, 2017:73–80).
A common bilateral arrangement is an agreement of a program agency to provide administrative data to a statistical agency to use as a sampling frame, a source of classification information, a summary compilation to check (and possibly revise) preliminary sample results, and a source with which to improve imputations for survey nonresponse, reduce variability in estimates for small geographic areas, or substitute for survey questions. The Census Bureau, for example, uses Schedule C tax information from the Internal Revenue Service in place of surveys for millions of nonemployer businesses. Such practices improve statistical estimates, reduce costs, and eliminate duplicate requests for information from the same respondents.
In other arrangements, federal statistical agencies engage in cooperative data collection with state statistical agencies to let one collection system satisfy the needs of both. A number of such joint systems have been developed, notably by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the National Agricultural Statistics Service, the National Center for Education Statistics, and the National Center for Health Statistics.
Another example of a joint arrangement is one in which a statistical agency contracts with another to conduct a survey, compile special
tabulations, or develop models. Such arrangements make use of the special skills of the supplying agency and facilitate the use of common concepts and methods. The Census Bureau conducts many surveys for other agencies; both the National Center for Health Statistics and the National Agricultural Statistics Service receive funding from other agencies in their departments to support their survey work; and the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics receives funding from agencies in other departments to support several of its surveys (see U.S. Office of Management and Budget, 2017:Table 2).
The major federal statistical agencies are also concerned with the international comparability of statistics. Under the leadership of SSP, they contribute to the deliberations of the United Nations Statistical Commission, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, and other international organizations; participate in the development of international standard classifications and systems; support educational activities that promote improved statistics in developing countries; and learn from and contribute to the work of established statistical agencies in other countries in such areas as survey methodology, record linkage, confidentiality protection techniques, and data quality standards.
Two continuing collaborative efforts in the United States for providing statistical information to the public in a broad area of interest are the Federal Interagency Forum on Aging-Related Statistics (Aging Forum) and the Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics (Child Forum). The Aging Forum was established in the mid-1980s by the National Institute on Aging, with the National Center for Health Statistics and the Census Bureau, to improve the quality and usefulness of federal data on aging and to inform the public, policy makers, and researchers about trends for this important population. It was reorganized in 1998 to include 6 new agencies, and it currently includes 16 statistical and program agencies.97 The Aging Forum produces an indicators chart book (first published in 2000) (see Federal Interagency Forum on Aging-Related Statistics, 2016).
The Child Forum was formalized in a 1994 executive order to foster collaboration in the collection and reporting of federal data on children and families. Its membership currently includes 23 statistical and program agencies, and its chart books (e.g., Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics, 2016) describe the condition of America’s children.98 Those conditions include changing population and family characteristics, the environment in which children are living, and indicators of well-being in the areas of economic security, health, behavior, social environment, and education.
Clearly, no single statistical or program agency alone could have produced reports of those two forums. Working together in this way, federal statistical agencies contribute to presenting data in a form that is more relevant to policy concerns and thereby strengthen the statistical system overall.
CHALLENGES AND REWARDS FOR COLLABORATION
Collaborative activities, such as sharing and integrating data compiled by different statistical and program agencies, standardizing concepts and measures, reducing unneeded duplication, and working together on methodological challenges, invariably require effort to overcome differences in agency missions and operations. Yet with constrained budgets and increasing demands for more relevant, accurate, and timely statistical information, collected at reduced costs and burden, the importance of proactive collaboration and coordination among statistical agencies cannot be overstated. To achieve the most effective integration of their work for the public good, agencies must be willing to take a long view, to strive to accommodate each other, and to act as partners in the development of statistical information for public use. The rewards of effective collaboration can be not only data that are more efficiently obtained, of higher quality, and more relevant to policy concerns, but also a stronger, more effective statistical system as a whole.