Improving Data Quality Awareness in the United States Federal Statistical Agencies

Article excerpt


The Federal Committee on Statistical Methodology (FCSM), an interagency group of federal statisticians and economists, was organized by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to address issues of data quality that affect federal statistics. This committee serves as a forum to discuss and suggest improvements in federal data quality. An objective of the FCSM is to create greater awareness among federal statisticians of data-quality problems. To address this objective, the FCSM selects topics to study and then publishes reports that recommend improvements in selected areas of federal statistics. I discuss the reports in terms of components of total survey error.


In July 1975, the Interagency Committee on Statistical Methodology was reorganized to focus on issues of statistical methodology affecting two or more federal statistical agencies in the United States. I focus on the work of this committee from 1975 to 1990.

The OMB invites selected statisticians, economists, and managers working in the executive agencies to participate as members of the committee. Executive agencies are the departments and offices that report to the President. Committee members are selected by OMB on the basis of their individual expertise and interest in statistical methods, and they serve in their personal capacity rather than as agency representatives. Moreover, when committee members change positions within the federal government, they remain members of the committee. The major goals of the FCSM are as follows:

1. Disseminating information on best statistical practice among all federal statistical agencies.

2. Recommending the introduction of new technologies in federal statistical agencies to improve data quality.

3. Providing a mechanism for statisticians in different federal agencies to meet and exchange ideas.

From 1975 to 1990, 45 individuals served at various times as members of the FCSM. They came from 15 agencies: U.S. Bureau of the Census, U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, and Office of Business Analysis of the U.S. Department of Commerce; the National Agricultural Statistics Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture; Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor; National Center of Education Statistics of the U.S. Department of Education; Energy Information Administration; Statistics of Income Division of the Internal Revenue Service, U.S. Treasury Department; Social Security Administration, National Center for Health Statistics, and Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (OASPE/HHS); Defense Manpower Data Center and National Computer Security Center of the U.S. Department of Defense; National Science Foundation; Federal Reserve Board: and OMB. In addition to the agencies with FCSM members, other federal agencies are invited to participate in the seminars organized to disseminate the working papers.

The broad coverage of federal agencies both reflects and determines a wide network of professionals interested in methodological issues of data quality. Twenty statistical policy working papers (SPWP's), which, were prepared by subcommittees, have been published. Their titles and dates are given in Table 1.

Table 1. Statistical Policy Working Papers (SPWP's)

SPWP No.                   Title

   1         Report on Statistics for Allocation
              of Funds, 1978 (PB86-211521/AS)
   2         Report on Statistical Disclosure and
              Disclosure-Avoidance Techniques, 1978
   3         An Error Profile: Employment as
              Measured by the Current Population
              Survey, 1978 (PB86-214269/AS)
   4         Glossary of Nonsampling Error Terms: An
              Illustration of a Semantic Problem in
              Statistics, 1978 (PB86-211547/AS)
   5         Report on Exact and Statistical
              Matching Techniques, 1980
   6         Reporton Statistical Uses of
              Administrative Records, 1980
   7         An Interagency Review of Time-Series
              Revision Policies, 1982 (PB86-232451/AS)
   8         Statistical Interagency
              Agreements, 1982 (PB86-230570/AS)
   9         Contracting for Surveys, 1983
  10         Approaches to Developing Questionnaires,
              1984 (PB84-105055/AS)
  11         A Review of Industry Coding
              Systems, 1984 (PB84-135276)
  12         The Role of Telephone Data Collection
              in Federal Surveys, 1984 (PB85-105971)
  13         Federal Longitudinal Surveys,
              1986 (PB86-139730)
  14         Workshop on Statistical Uses of
              Microcomputers in Federal Agencies,
              1987 (PB87-166393)
  15         Quality in Establishment Surveys,
              1988 (PB88-232921)
  16         A Comparative Study of Reporting
              Units in Selected Employer Data
              Systems. …