Statistical Agencies:

Proposed Consolidation and Data Sharing Legislation

T-GGD-98-91: Published: Mar 26, 1998. Publicly Released: Mar 26, 1998.

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GAO discussed Titles I and II of S. 1404, a reorganization proposal involving parts of the federal statistical system.

GAO noted that: (1) S. 1404 seems to be consistent with the five principles GAO identified in May 1995 as a framework for analyzing efforts to reorganize or streamline government agencies; (2) it uses a novel delegation approach featuring a bipartisan commission charged with submitting a detailed reorganization plan to Congress for expedited consideration; (3) the bill's proposed Federal Commission on Statistical Policy would have a charter that is quite different from most previous commissions, in that it embodies fairly explicit understanding that the result of its work will be a detailed series of recommendations on how to consolidate three federal statistical agencies; (4) also, the Commission is given a firm, 18-month timetable to devise and get accepted by Congress, under fast-track consideration priority, a reorganization plan that is limited to implementing its recommendations for consolidation; (5) then, and only if its recommended plan is accepted by Congress, would the Commission continue in existence, with such further assignments as recommending appointment nominations and solutions to key policy issues; (6) title II of the bill would also provide uniform safeguards for the conditional confidentiality of information acquired for exclusively statistical purposes and improve the efficiency and quality of federal statistical programs by permitting limited sharing of records among designated agencies; (7) because the federal statistical system is decentralized, different agencies are sometimes responsible for various stages of producing statistics; (8) in 1996, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Department of the Treasury sent to Congress proposed legislation that would permit limited sharing of data among designated statistical agencies for statistical purposes, subject to procedural safeguards contained in the proposals; (9) in 1997, both of these bills were retransmitted to Congress, with indications of bipartisan support in both houses; (10) while S. 1404 does not include the conforming amendments that OMB developed with the major statistical agencies, and on which there was apparently some debate among agencies, it does offer OMB the opportunity to submit conforming changes within 90 days and in other respects seems consistent with the OMB proposal; and (11) since the current inability of federal agencies to share data is one of the principal arguments for statistical agency consolidation, it is possible that enacting title II of S. 1404 may lessen the urgency of the consolidation which is the presumed purpose of title I.

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