National Academies Press: OpenBook

Principles and Practices for a Federal Statistical Agency: Sixth Edition (2017)

Chapter: Brief History of the U.S. Federal Statistical System

« Previous: Establishment of a Federal Statistical Agency
Suggested Citation:"Brief History of the U.S. Federal Statistical System." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. Principles and Practices for a Federal Statistical Agency: Sixth Edition. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/24810.
×

Brief History of the U.S. Federal Statistical System

THE U.S. GOVERNMENT COLLECTED AND PUBLISHED statistics long before any distinct federal statistical agency was formed (see Appendix B; see also Anderson, 2015; Citro, 2016; Duncan and Shelton, 1978; Norwood, 1995). The U.S. Constitution mandated a decennial census of population; the first such censuses (beginning in 1790) were conducted by U.S. marshals as one of their many duties. The Constitution also mandated reporting of federal government receipts and expenditures, which led to early collection by the U.S. Department of the Treasury of foreign trade statistics because of the reliance of the federal government on tariffs for revenues in the 19th century. A census of manufactures was first taken in conjunction with the 1810 population census, and the 1820 population census laid the groundwork for additional economic statistics by asking for the number of household members principally employed in agriculture, manufacturing, or commerce.

In the 1860s, Congress enacted laws providing for the compilation of statistics on agriculture, education, and income. It established the Bureau of Labor (forerunner of the Bureau of Labor Statistics) as a separate agency with a mandate to respond to widespread public demand for information on the conditions of industrial workers in 1884. It established the Census Bureau as a permanent agency in 1902.

Many federal statistical agencies that can trace their roots back to the 19th or early 20th century, such as the Bureau of Economic Analysis and the National Center for Health Statistics, were organized in their current form following World War II. Agencies organized since then include the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, the

Suggested Citation:"Brief History of the U.S. Federal Statistical System." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. Principles and Practices for a Federal Statistical Agency: Sixth Edition. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/24810.
×

Energy Information Administration, and the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics.

Today, the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB), through its Statistical and Science Policy Office (which has roots going back to the 1930s), coordinates the work of federal statistical agencies. The chief statistician, who heads the office, chairs the Interagency Council on Statistical Policy (ICSP), which was created by OMB in the late 1980s and authorized in statute in 1995. The current ICSP membership includes the heads of the 13 principal statistical agencies17 and one other agency:18

  • Bureau of Economic Analysis (U.S. Department of Commerce)
  • Bureau of Justice Statistics (U.S. Department of Justice)
  • Bureau of Labor Statistics (U.S. Department of Labor)
  • Bureau of Transportation Statistics (U.S. Department of Transportation)
  • Census Bureau (U.S. Department of Commerce)
  • Economic Research Service (U.S. Department of Agriculture)
  • Energy Information Administration (U.S. Department of Energy)
  • National Agricultural Statistics Service (U.S. Department of Agriculture)
  • National Center for Education Statistics (U.S. Department of Education)
  • National Center for Health Statistics (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services)
  • National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (U.S. National Science Foundation)
  • National Center for Veterans Analysis and Statistics (NCVAS) (U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs)
  • Office of Research, Evaluation, and Statistics (U.S. Social Security Administration)
  • Statistics of Income Division (U.S. Department of the Treasury)

Under the guidance issued in 2007 for the Confidential Information Protection and Statistical Efficiency Act of 2002 (CIPSEA) (see Appendixes A and B), OMB may also recognize statistical “units,” which are usually

__________________

17 See https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/omb/inforeg_statpolicy/bb-principal-statistical-agencies-recognized-units [April 2017].

18 The Paperwork Reduction Act, as reauthorized in 1995 (44 USC 3504(e)(8)), authorizes the OMB director to “establish an Interagency Council on Statistical Policy to advise and assist the Director in carrying out the functions under this subsection that shall— (A) be headed by the chief statistician; and (B) consist of— (i) the heads of the major statistical programs; and (ii) representatives of other statistical agencies under rotating membership.” The current ICSP rotating member is the National Center for Veterans Analysis and Statistics. For many years, the rotating member was the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Environmental Information.

Suggested Citation:"Brief History of the U.S. Federal Statistical System." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. Principles and Practices for a Federal Statistical Agency: Sixth Edition. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/24810.
×

small components of nonstatistical agencies. The statistical agencies named in CIPSEA and recognized statistical units are authorized to assign agent status to researchers and contractors, which permits sharing individually identifiable information with them for statistical purposes and holding them legally liable for protecting the confidentiality of the information. The fundamental responsibilities enumerated in Statistical Policy Directive No. 1 apply to both statistical agencies and recognized statistical units.

In its annual compilation Statistical Programs of the United States Government (see, e.g., U.S. Office of Management and Budget, 2017:Table 1), OMB lists over 100 agencies that are neither a principal statistical agency nor a recognized unit but that carry out statistical activities with annual budgets of $500,000 or more. The purpose of the listing is to indicate the breadth of statistical work in the federal government. Figure I.1 depicts the 13 principal statistical agencies and other agencies (including recognized statistical units) with significant statistical programs by cabinet department. Figure I.2 depicts reporting relationships for the 13 principal statistical agencies, rotating members of the ICSP, other statistical units, and the Statistical and Science Policy Office from the relevant congressional appropriations subcommittee to the cabinet secretary and any other intermediate levels of authority. Both figures make clear the decentralization of the U.S. statistical system.

The principles for federal statistical agencies presented here are relevant to recognized statistical units and other federal agencies that carry out statistical activities, and many of the detailed practices are also pertinent. Similarly, the principles and practices may be relevant to statistical units in state and local government agencies, as well as for international statistical agencies.19

__________________

19 As cited in National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (2017b), several agencies have issued federal program evaluation guidelines that include such principles as rigor, relevance, transparency, independence, and ethics. See also the call in the President’s fiscal 2017 budget for a government-wide “principles and practices for evaluation offices,” modeled on Statistical Policy Directive No. 1 (U.S. Office of Management and Budget, 2016:71).

Suggested Citation:"Brief History of the U.S. Federal Statistical System." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. Principles and Practices for a Federal Statistical Agency: Sixth Edition. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/24810.
×
Image
Figure I.1 Organization of principal federal statistical agencies and other statistical units and programs, by department, 2017. NOTES: Filled-in circles are the 13 principal statistical agencies; empty circles are other statistical units and programs. See text and Appendix B for discussion. SOURCE: U.S. Office of Management and Budget (2017:Table 1).
Suggested Citation:"Brief History of the U.S. Federal Statistical System." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. Principles and Practices for a Federal Statistical Agency: Sixth Edition. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/24810.
×
Suggested Citation:"Brief History of the U.S. Federal Statistical System." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. Principles and Practices for a Federal Statistical Agency: Sixth Edition. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/24810.
×
Image
NOTE: The National Center for Veterans Analysis and Statistics and the Office of Environmental Information are the current and previous ICSP rotating member, respectively. The organizational location and relevant congressional appropriations subcommittees are based on jurisdictions in the 115th Congress, which began on January 1, 2017.
Suggested Citation:"Brief History of the U.S. Federal Statistical System." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. Principles and Practices for a Federal Statistical Agency: Sixth Edition. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/24810.
×
Page 19
Suggested Citation:"Brief History of the U.S. Federal Statistical System." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. Principles and Practices for a Federal Statistical Agency: Sixth Edition. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/24810.
×
Page 20
Suggested Citation:"Brief History of the U.S. Federal Statistical System." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. Principles and Practices for a Federal Statistical Agency: Sixth Edition. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/24810.
×
Page 21
Suggested Citation:"Brief History of the U.S. Federal Statistical System." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. Principles and Practices for a Federal Statistical Agency: Sixth Edition. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/24810.
×
Page 22
Suggested Citation:"Brief History of the U.S. Federal Statistical System." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. Principles and Practices for a Federal Statistical Agency: Sixth Edition. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/24810.
×
Page 23
Suggested Citation:"Brief History of the U.S. Federal Statistical System." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. Principles and Practices for a Federal Statistical Agency: Sixth Edition. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/24810.
×
Page 24
Next: Valuing Federal Statistics »
Principles and Practices for a Federal Statistical Agency: Sixth Edition Get This Book
×
Buy Paperback | $54.00 Buy Ebook | $43.99
MyNAP members save 10% online.
Login or Register to save!
Download Free PDF

Publicly available statistics from government agencies that are credible, relevant, accurate, and timely are essential for policy makers, individuals, households, businesses, academic institutions, and other organizations to make informed decisions. Even more, the effective operation of a democratic system of government depends on the unhindered flow of statistical information to its citizens.

In the United States, federal statistical agencies in cabinet departments and independent agencies are the governmental units whose principal function is to compile, analyze, and disseminate information for such statistical purposes as describing population characteristics and trends, planning and monitoring programs, and conducting research and evaluation. The work of these agencies is coordinated by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget. Statistical agencies may acquire information not only from surveys or censuses of people and organizations, but also from such sources as government administrative records, private-sector datasets, and Internet sources that are judged of suitable quality and relevance for statistical use. They may conduct analyses, but they do not advocate policies or take partisan positions. Statistical purposes for which they provide information relate to descriptions of groups and exclude any interest in or identification of an individual person, institution, or economic unit.

Four principles are fundamental for a federal statistical agency: relevance to policy issues, credibility among data users, trust among data providers, and independence from political and other undue external influence.Β Principles and Practices for a Federal Statistical Agency: Sixth Edition presents and comments on these principles as they’ve been impacted by changes in laws, regulations, and other aspects of the environment of federal statistical agencies over the past 4 years.

  1. ×

    Welcome to OpenBook!

    You're looking at OpenBook, NAP.edu's online reading room since 1999. Based on feedback from you, our users, we've made some improvements that make it easier than ever to read thousands of publications on our website.

    Do you want to take a quick tour of the OpenBook's features?

    No Thanks Take a Tour »
  2. ×

    Show this book's table of contents, where you can jump to any chapter by name.

    « Back Next »
  3. ×

    ...or use these buttons to go back to the previous chapter or skip to the next one.

    « Back Next »
  4. ×

    Jump up to the previous page or down to the next one. Also, you can type in a page number and press Enter to go directly to that page in the book.

    « Back Next »
  5. ×

    Switch between the Original Pages, where you can read the report as it appeared in print, and Text Pages for the web version, where you can highlight and search the text.

    « Back Next »
  6. ×

    To search the entire text of this book, type in your search term here and press Enter.

    « Back Next »
  7. ×

    Share a link to this book page on your preferred social network or via email.

    « Back Next »
  8. ×

    View our suggested citation for this chapter.

    « Back Next »
  9. ×

    Ready to take your reading offline? Click here to buy this book in print or download it as a free PDF, if available.

    « Back Next »
Stay Connected!