Insights

Challenges and Opportunities for Advancing Excellence in Federal Statistics

A view of the U.S. Capitol as seen from the columns of the Supreme Court building.

Data for Public Good: it’s a conference theme, but also a mantra that our mission here at RTI supports. Data is everywhere; it is growing, being analyzed, and being used for decision-making at warp speed. With data growing every day and more and more companies finding ways to use data, nowhere is it more apparent that we strive for excellence in the use of data than in federal statistics.

During the 2020 Joint Statistical Meetings of the American Statistical Association (JSM), one of the world’s largest events for statisticians, I had the opportunity to serve as a discussant for an invited session focused on How the Council of Professional Associations on Federal Statistics Advances Excellence in Federal Statistics. In my role, I provided commentary on the theme of continued excellence in federal statistics. With more than 35 years of work in survey design, methods, sampling and health services, you could say I have a bit of experience on the topic and have seen my fair share of changes in the field that I could report on. Having directed large Federal statistical programs over the course of my career, instructed in academe as a professor of biostatistics, and served as a member of the Federal Committee on Statistical Methodology (FCSM) for two decades, I have consistently benefitted by COPAFS initiatives in each of these varied roles.

The session featured three primary topics: The Role of Policy and Advocacy; Collaboration to Enable the Federal Committee on Statistical Methodology Conferences; and Engaging Federal Statistical Agencies with Stakeholders and Users: Roles of COPAFS Quarterly Meetings, Monthly Updates, Workshops, and Seminars. Attention focused on the demands placed on the federal statistical system and the interconnected roles of the Council of Professional Associations on Federal Statistics (COPAFS) and the entire statistical community to advance excellence in federal statistics.

The primary goal of COPAFS is to advance excellence in federal statistics by functioning as a facilitator, coordinator and disseminator serving to connect producers of official statistics with essential stakeholders, including policy makers, program planners, researchers, and businesses. COPAFS informs stakeholders of issues impacting the federal statistical system and statistical policy initiatives, as well as new data releases, products, changes, and innovations.

In addition to discussing all the roles and responsibilities of the Federal Statistical System to advance excellence in federal statistics, we also identified new challenges confronting the system:

  • COVID-19 Obstacles and Prioritizing Projects
  • Maintaining Data Quality and Integrity
  • Combining Data Sources While Protecting Privacy
  • Budget Constraints

Although challenges will inevitably continue to emerge, we noted several opportunities presenting themselves to advance excellence in federal statistics:

  • Advancing the Federal Data Strategy
  • Supporting the Advisory Committee on Data for Evidence Building
  • Attention to Innovations
  • Implementing Enhanced Collaborations

Since the United States has a decentralized statistical system, the system serves a vital role in generating data that the public, businesses, and governments need to make informed decisions. Timely, accurate, and relevant data are the foundation of evidence-based decision-making, and national statistical programs must be reviewed continuously to ensure data integrity and quality. At RTI, we are committed to turning knowledge into practice to do our part in not only advancing the field of statistics and data science but also in using data for good.

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