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Highlights

Data from the decennial census are used to apportion and redistrict seats in the House of Representatives, distribute billions of dollars of federal funds, and guide the planning and investment decisions of the public and private sectors. Given the importance of these data, it is essential that they meet high quality standards before they are distributed to the public. After questions arose about the quality of certain data from the 2000 Census, the requesters asked GAO to review U.S. Census Bureau (Bureau) standards on the quality of data disseminated to the public.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Commerce 1. To ensure that the 2010 Census, the ACS, and other Census data products will provide public data users with more complete, accurate, and useful information, the Secretary of Commerce should direct the Director of the U.S. Census Bureau to accelerate the Bureau's effort to establish comprehensive data quality standards by developing and making public a detailed plan, including interim milestones, for developing such standards and procedures.
Closed - Implemented
To address this recommendation, the Bureau conducted an in-depth review of the efforts that its counterparts, such as Statistics Canada, are undertaking to establish and implement a comprehensive data quality framework. This effort led to a benchmarking study of the Bureau's quality standards, for the purpose of assessing weaknesses in its data release standards and developing standards to address these weaknesses. The benchmarking report has not been finalized; however, the Bureau decided, in September 2005, to use the draft report to inform a decision to develop a comprehensive set of data quality standards. The Bureau expects to publish a comprehensive set of data quality standards on a flow basis from this effort.
Department of Commerce 2. To ensure that the 2010 Census, the ACS, and other Census data products will provide public data users with more complete, accurate, and useful information, the Secretary of Commerce should direct the Director of the U.S. Census Bureau to include the implementation of the data quality review standards in the Bureau's plans for the 2010 Census, and test new draft guidelines on data quality review using the annual ACS test program and other surveys.
Closed - Implemented
In May 2005 the Bureau released the standard on "Distribution of Census and Survey Data Products." This standard, which requires that all published data and statistical statements meet specified levels of statistical rigor, is available on the Census Bureau's Internet site. Specifically, the standard notes that the Census Bureau has the responsibility to inform its data users of the sampling and nonsampling errors in its surveys. Moreover, the Standard accommodates varying types of Census Bureau data products and the nature and extent of the information available on the types of errors that affect the published estimates. It also lays out the various offices within the Census Bureau that are responsible for implementing the standard, and where the public can submit inquiries.

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