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Principles and Practices for a Federal Statistical Agency: Seventh Edition (2021)

Chapter: Practice 1: A Clearly Defined and Well-Accepted Mission

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Suggested Citation:"Practice 1: A Clearly Defined and Well-Accepted Mission." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Principles and Practices for a Federal Statistical Agency: Seventh Edition. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25885.
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Practice 1

A Clearly Defined and Well-Accepted Mission

A statistical agency’s mission should serve as a foundation for not only what work it does but how it does its work. Some agency missions are clearly spelled out in legislation; other agencies have only general authority granted them by legislation. Sometimes specific requirements are set by legislation or regulation (see agency descriptions in Appendix B).

A statistical agency’s mission includes its responsibility to:

  • produce and disseminate relevant and timely statistical information;
  • conduct credible and accurate statistical activities;
  • conduct objective statistical activities; and
  • protect the trust of information providers by ensuring the confidentiality and exclusive statistical use of their responses.1

These responsibilities should be so ingrained into agency staff during their training and through the procedures and practices they follow that they become part of the culture of the agency.

To be effective, a statistical agency also should

  • ensure the quality of all aspects of its statistical programs, including measurement methods, data collection and processing, and appropriate methods of data analysis;
  • evaluate, implement, and document new methods and processes that better serve users’ needs (see Practice 5); and

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1 See 44 USC 3563(a)(1); originally issued as Statistical Policy Directive No. 1 (see Appendix A).

Suggested Citation:"Practice 1: A Clearly Defined and Well-Accepted Mission." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Principles and Practices for a Federal Statistical Agency: Seventh Edition. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25885.
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  • curate its data to ensure their availability for future use, as well as documenting the methods used and the quality of the estimates (see Practice 9).

A statistical agency’s mission must focus on information that is to be used for statistical purposes, because nonstatistical activities threaten public trust in the agency. A statistical agency should defend its mission and resist external attempts to extend its work beyond statistical purposes (see Practice 2). If a statistical agency is charged with collecting information for nonstatistical purposes (e.g., collecting data, not only for statistical purposes, but also for possible use in administrative actions affecting an individual), the agency should carefully segregate the statistical activities from the nonstatistical ones (e.g., perhaps locating the latter within a clearly demarcated office). If the senior leadership of the agency conclude that it is not possible to develop a satisfactory arrangement responsive to the agency’s statistical mission, they should request that the activity be assigned elsewhere. Departments with federal statistical agencies have the responsibility to support and facilitate statistical agencies carrying out their mission and should not impose nonstatistical activities on them.2

A statistical agency should publicly communicate its mission and disseminate its statistical information and associated documentation on its website and other appropriate venues. The website should also provide information about enabling legislation, the scope of the agency’s statistical programs, confidentiality provisions, and data quality guidelines. Consequently, agencies should carefully design their websites to maximize their utility to their users, stakeholders, and the public.

A statistical agency should periodically review its mission. As part of strategic planning to carry out its mission within its budget, it should review priorities among different programs (see, e.g., National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine [NASEM], 2020a; National Research Council [NRC], 1976, 2000b, 2009a), the infrastructure (e.g., computing capabilities, staff with appropriate expertise) needed to support them, and the relative urgency of needed improvements, say, in timeliness versus accuracy. Statistical agencies should regularly evaluate their programs to determine whether they are fulfilling the agency’s mission

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2 See 44 USC Section 3563(b).

Suggested Citation:"Practice 1: A Clearly Defined and Well-Accepted Mission." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Principles and Practices for a Federal Statistical Agency: Seventh Edition. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25885.
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(see Practice 6), and an agency may need to eliminate or cut back an existing program in favor of a new initiative to better meet its mission (see Practices 5 and 9).

Suggested Citation:"Practice 1: A Clearly Defined and Well-Accepted Mission." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Principles and Practices for a Federal Statistical Agency: Seventh Edition. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25885.
×

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Suggested Citation:"Practice 1: A Clearly Defined and Well-Accepted Mission." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Principles and Practices for a Federal Statistical Agency: Seventh Edition. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25885.
×
Page 49
Suggested Citation:"Practice 1: A Clearly Defined and Well-Accepted Mission." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Principles and Practices for a Federal Statistical Agency: Seventh Edition. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25885.
×
Page 50
Suggested Citation:"Practice 1: A Clearly Defined and Well-Accepted Mission." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Principles and Practices for a Federal Statistical Agency: Seventh Edition. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25885.
×
Page 51
Suggested Citation:"Practice 1: A Clearly Defined and Well-Accepted Mission." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Principles and Practices for a Federal Statistical Agency: Seventh Edition. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25885.
×
Page 52
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Government statistics are widely used to inform decisions by policymakers, program administrators, businesses and other organizations as well as households and the general public. Principles and Practices for a Federal Statistical Agency, Seventh Edition will assist statistical agencies and units, as well as other agencies engaged in statistical activities, to carry out their responsibilities to provide accurate, timely, relevant, and objective information for public and policy use. This report will also inform legislative and executive branch decision makers, data users, and others about the characteristics of statistical agencies that enable them to serve the public good.

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