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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. 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.

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.

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Publication Info

156 pages |  6 x 9 | 

  • Paperback:  978-0-309-46167-2
  • Ebook:  978-0-309-46170-2
Chapters skim
Front Matter i-xx
Executive Summary 1-4
Part I: Introduction 5-6
Background 7-10
Definition of a Federal Statistical Agency 11-14
Establishment of a Federal Statistical Agency 15-18
Brief History of the U.S. Federal Statistical System 19-24
Valuing Federal Statistics 25-32
References for Part I 33-38
Part II: Principles for a Federal Statistical Agency 39-40
Principle 1: Relevance to Policy Issues 41-44
Principle 2: Credibility among Data Users 45-46
Principle 3: Trust among Data Providers 47-50
Principle 4: Independence from Political and Other Undue External Influence 51-54
References for Part II 55-58
Part III: Practices for a Federal Statistical Agency 59-60
Practice 1: A Clearly Defined and Well-Accepted Mission 61-62
Practice 2: Necessary Authority to Protect Independence 63-68
Practice 3: Use of Multiple Data Sources for Statistics That Meet User Needs 69-80
Practice 4: Openness about Sources and Limitations of the Data Provided 81-84
Practice 5: Wide Dissemination of Data 85-88
Practice 6: Cooperation with Data Users 89-90
Practice 7: Respect for the Privacy and Autonomy of Data Providers 91-96
Practice 8: Protection of the Confidentiality of Data Providers' Information 97-100
Practice 9: Commitment to Quality and Professional Standards of Practice 101-104
Practice 10: An Active Research Program 105-108
Practice 11: Professional Advancement of Staff 109-112
Practice 12: A Strong Internal and External Evaluation Program 113-116
Practice 13: Coordination and Collaboration with Other Statistical Agencies 117-122
References for Part III 123-136
Appendixes 137-138
Appendix A: Legislation and Regulations That Govern Federal Statistics 139-170
Appendix B: Organization of the Federal Statistical System 171-196
Committee on National Statistics 197-198

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