Immigration Statistics:

Guidance on Producing Information on the U.S. Resident Foreign-Born

GGD-98-155: Published: Jul 22, 1998. Publicly Released: Aug 21, 1998.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the federal immigration statistics function, focusing on: (1) identifying the federal guidance available to the agencies responsible for collecting, analyzing, and disseminating information on the foreign-born; and (2) information that compares the agencies to federal guidance on: (a) independence; (b) capacity to produce information; and (c) efforts to coordinate the production of information, which includes statistical data on the foreign-born.

GAO noted that: (1) standards and guidance covering the production of all federal statistical information, including statistics on the foreign-born, have been issued by two sources; (2) governmentwide guidance has been issued by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), which is legislatively charged with ensuring that agencies' statistical activities follow federal statistical standards; (3) OMB's guidance includes uniform standards for the compilation and release of all federal statistical data; (4) the National Academy of Sciences' (NAS) report provides guidance to executive branch agencies on how to compile and release statistical information and suggests practices for achieving independence, the capacity to produce information, and coordination; (5) according to OMB and NAS, the existing federal guidance provides statements of best practices, which are intended as suggestions, not prescriptions; (6) the Bureau of the Census and the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) differed from each other in their structure and mission, and thus their independence, capacity, and coordination varied; (7) for example, according to Census Population Division officials, the Census Bureau, structured as a statistical agency with a primary mission of collecting and disseminating statistical information, has incorporated the elements of the NAS guidance in generating information on the foreign-born; (8) specifically, Census has procedures in place to protect its independence, it has the capacity to produce information, and it coordinates with other statistical agencies; (9) in contrast, INS' Statistics Branch, a self-described data collection and analysis unit, has incorporated some, but not all, of the elements of independence and many of the elements of capacity and coordination; (10) for example, it was not established by statute as an independent entity; and (11) officials said the branch has been working to improve its capacity and coordination by hiring qualified professional staff and by coordinating its statistical activities with other agencies that produce data on the foreign-born.

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