Data Quality: Expanded Use of Key Dissemination Practices Would Further Safeguard the Integrity of Federal Statistical Data

GAO-06-607 Published: May 31, 2006. Publicly Released: Jun 05, 2006.
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Highlights

In 2003, the Bureau of the Census (Bureau) changed the day and location of the release of its Income and Poverty Estimates. Some data users believed the change was an effort to suppress unfavorable news and questioned the Bureau's data dissemination practices. GAO was asked to assess whether (1) the Bureau adhered to its dissemination practices for the 2003 and later releases, and (2) the Bureau and 13 other federal statistical agencies follow data release practices recommended by the National Research Council (NRC). GAO reviewed the Bureau's dissemination process for the 2003 thru 2005 Income and Poverty Estimates.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Commerce To help improve the Bureau's data dissemination practices and thus enhance the agency's actual and perceived position of independence, the Secretary of Commerce should direct the Bureau to, as part of its efforts to update its practices for releasing the Income and Poverty Estimates, fully document its key data dissemination practices for releasing the Income and Poverty Estimates.
Closed – Implemented
The Census Bureau drafted an updated document that describes, in full detail, the data dissemination practices for its Income and Poverty Estimates.
Office of Management and Budget To help improve governmentwide data dissemination practices that would further safeguard the integrity of federal statistical data, the Director of OMB should ensure his agency, in completing its draft directive on the release of federal statistical products, considers whether and how to address areas where our survey indicates there are gaps between NRC's existing guidance and agencies' practices. These areas include the extent to which agencies should have (1) full authority to release statistical information without prior clearance by their respective departments, (2) data dissemination policies that foster the frequent release of major findings from agency's statistical programs, and (3) an established publications policy describing the types of reports and other releases an agency has available.
Closed – Implemented
OMB agreed to consider GAO's recommendations in the context of refining the statistical dissemination directive that was recently (August 1, 2007) printed in the Federal Register for public comment. The draft Statistical Policy Directive does in fact cover the gaps GAO identified between NRC's existing guidance and agencies' practices. Including the extent to which agencies should have 1) full authority to release statistical information without prior clearance by their respective departments, (2) data dissemination policies that foster the frequent release of major findings from agency's statistical programs, and (3) an established publications policy describing the types of reports and other releases an agency has available.
Office of Management and Budget The Director of OMB should direct his agency to include in its directive additional elements and characteristics important for agencies' data dissemination practices, including (1) clear definitions of what is, and what is not covered by the directive, (2) the extent to which agencies should document their data dissemination guidance and how often the guidance should be reviewed, (3) the amount of flexibility agencies have in implementing OMB's guidance, (4) procedures for monitoring agencies' adherence to its directive, and (5) the feasibility of requiring agencies to distribute data products through a standard set of channels as well as through other outlets as appropriate, so that the public will always know at least one source it can turn to and obtain agency data.
Closed – Implemented
OMB's draft Statistical Policy Directive includes the characteristics GAO identified as important for agencies' data dissemination practices, including (1) clear definitions of what is covered by the directive, (2) the extent to which agencies should document their data dissemination guidance, (3) the amount of flexibility agencies have in implementing OMB's guidance, (4) procedures for monitoring agencies' adherence to its directive, and (5) the feasibility of requiring agencies to distribute data products through a standard set of channels as well as through other outlets as appropriate.

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