Justice and Law Enforcement:

Better Guidance and Controls Are Needed To Improve Federal Surveys of Attitudes and Opinions

GGD-78-24: Published: Sep 15, 1978. Publicly Released: Oct 16, 1978.


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Attitude surveys and public opinion polls are used to obtain data, by means of interviews or questionnaires, from scientifically selected members of a specified universe. As information collection activities, opinion polls and attitude surveys are subject to the forms clearance provisions of the Federal Reports Act. As statistical surveys, they are subject to the standards and guidelines promulgated by the Department of Commerce's Office of Federal Statistical Policy and Standards (OFSPS).

The OFSPS' "Standards for Statistical Surveys" does not provide adequate guidance for federal agencies that survey public attitudes and opinions. The guidance does not consider that contractors are used extensively to perform surveys and polls and that federal agencies need guidance in contracting for surveys and in evaluating proposals submitted by contractors. The clearance review and approval process does not assure compliance with statistical standards and does not ensure that collected data are accurate and reliable. A review of five surveys conducted by federal agencies revealed that conclusions may be misleading; survey procedures were poorly conducted and controlled; and inadequate planning and data analysis limited validity and reliability of results.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendation for Executive Action

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Commerce should direct OFSPS to: amend the "Standards for Statistical Surveys" to provide more guidance on potential problems and ways to avoid these problems, including guidance on contracting for statistical surveys; develop criteria to determine which surveys and polls require early review and establish a system for providing that early review; develop criteria for selecting surveys and polls that should be monitored or reviewed during implementation and establish a system for providing that review; and institute a program of postreview of selected attitude surveys and opinion polls to ensure that inferences and conclusions reported as survey results are substantiated by survey data and make provisions for systematic reporting of these postreviews.

    Agency Affected:

    Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

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