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2020 Census to Ask About Citizenship; COSSA Releases Statement and Action Alert

On March 26, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross directed the Census Bureau to include a question about respondents’ citizenship in the 2020 Decennial Census. The decision was made in response to a request by the Department of Justice to add the question in order to support its enforcement of the Voting Rights Act, although it is unclear why current data is inadequate. Citizenship was last asked as part of the decennial census in 1950; since then it has been included on the census “long form,” which later became the American Community Survey (these differ from the decennial census in that they are sent to a sample of the U.S. population, not every household). In a memo outlining his decision, Ross stipulated that the question be asked last on the Census form. While the decision was reportedly made over the objections of the experts at the Census Bureau, the citizenship question was on the list of planned questions submitted to Congress on March 29.

The decision has raised concerns for those in the scientific community because the question was not part of the extensive research and testing the Census Bureau routinely conducts in the years leading up to a decennial census. The Bureau carefully evaluates all proposed changes to design and wording of the census to ensure that they do not affect the quality of the responses received. Asking about citizenship could alienate respondents in the immigrant community and potentially deter them from responding to the Census at all or answering inaccurately, resulting in an undercount of these populations and affecting the accuracy and integrity of the Census data. The Bureau is currently conducting the last major test of the 2020 Census operation, the 2018 End-to-End Test in Providence, RI, which is being administered without a citizenship question. Because the Bureau will not have been able to evaluate the impact of the question, we will not know how the question will affect responses until the 2020 Census is in the field. Given that the Census Bureau has a Constitutional obligation to count every member of the U.S. population, an increase in non-response would greatly increase the costs of the count, as more enumerators would need be sent to collect responses in person, at far greater expense than planned mail or internet outreach.

The decennial census is an irreplaceable source of data for researchers across the social sciences who use it to generate valuable findings about the U.S. population that can be used to inform evidence-based policies. In addition, information from the decennial census undergirds numerous other surveys and data sets at the Census Bureau and beyond, so a problem at the source would have far-reaching implications across the statistical system. COSSA strongly opposes the Department of Commerce’s decision and released a statement to that effect on March 27. In addition, COSSA issued an action alert to enable COSSA members to easily write to their Members of Congress and ask them to support legislation to remove the question. In addition, other COSSA members, including the American Statistical Association, Population Association of America, and the Social Science Research Council have released statements criticizing the decision.

At this stage, the only avenues to removing the question are legislation or a court ruling. Two bills (H.R. 5359 and S. 2580) have been introduced by Democrats in Congress that would bar the Census from asking about citizenship, but neither has bipartisan support, making passage unlikely. In addition, more than one law suit has been filed against the Administration, arguing that asking about citizenship is an attempt to depress the count of minority populations.

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Posted in Issue 7 (April 3), Update, Volume 37 (2018)

ASA Launches New “Count on Stats” Initiative

The American Statistical Association (ASA), a COSSA governing member, has launched a new initiative called Count on Stats to “enhance awareness about the importance, reliability, and trustworthiness of government data” and defend the federal statistical system against political attacks. ASA’s partners in the initiative include COSSA governing members the American Association for Public Opinion Research, the American Educational Research Association, and the American Sociological Association. More information about the program is available on ASA’s website.

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Posted in Issue 3 (February 6), Update, Volume 37 (2018)

Chief Statistician Seeks Information on Combining Data

The Chief Statistician of the United States has issued a Request for Information on how best to integrate data from multiple sources to inform the development of standards for using combined data for federal purposes. Specifically, the request is seeking information on: “(1) Current and emerging techniques for linking and analyzing combined data; (2) on-going research on methods to describe the quality of statistical products that result from these techniques; (3) computational frameworks and systems for conducting such work; (4) privacy or confidentiality issues that may arise from combining such data; and (5) suggestions for additional research in those or related areas.” More information can be found in the Federal Register notice. Information should be submitted by March 13, 2018.

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Posted in Issue 2 (January 23), Update, Volume 37 (2018)

CNSTAT Issues Report on Federal Statistics, Multiple Data Sources, and Privacy Protection

The Committee on National Statistics (CNSTAT) of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recently issued a consensus report entitled Federal Statistics, Multiple Data Sources, and Privacy Protection: Next Steps. The report was produced by the Panel on Improving Federal Statistics for Policy and Social Science Research Using Multiple Data Sources and State-of-the-Art Estimation Methods, chaired by Robert Groves of Georgetown University. The Panel’s first report, Innovations in Federal Statistics: Combining Data Sources While Protecting Privacy, was published in January 2017, and described some of the challenges currently facing the federal statistical system’s current paradigm of heavy reliance on sample surveys and recommended a new approach of combining different kinds of federal and private data, as well as the creation of an entity to facilitate that. Federal Statistics, Multiple Data Sources, and Privacy Protection builds on the first report and examines statistical methods for combining diverse types of data, the implications relying on multiple data sources may have for IT systems, different statistical and computer science approaches to enhancing privacy protections, how to ensure the quality and utility of statistics produced using multiple data sources, and ways to implement the “new entity” that would facilitate combining data sources. The pre-publication version of the report is available on the National Academies’ website.

There is quite a bit of overlap in the areas addressed by the CNSTAT panel and those addressed by the Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking, which released its report in September (see COSSA’s coverage the Commission)—in fact, Panel Chair Robert Groves served on the Commission as well. However, while the resulting reports from the two groups are hopefully complementary, their work was conducted independent of one another.

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Posted in Issue 21 (October 31), Update, Volume 36 (2017)

Former Census Director to Lead Statistics Group

John Thompson, who resigned as Director of the Census Bureau last month, has been appointed Executive Director of the Council of Professional Associations on Federal Statistics (COPAFS), effective July 24. Before being appointed to lead Census in 2013, Thompson was the President and CEO of NORC at the University of Chicago. He succeeds Katherine Smith Evans, who served as Executive Director since October 2012 and has been named the Washington Area Representative for the American Economic Association. COSSA looks forward to continuing to work closely with COPAFS on issues affecting federal statistical agencies and welcomes Thompson in his new role.

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Posted in Issue 15 (July 25), Update, Volume 36 (2017)

National Academies Releases Sixth Edition of Principles and Practices for a Federal Statistical Agency

The Committee on National Statistics (CNSTAT) of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recently published the sixth edition of its report, Principles and Practices for a Federal Statistical Agency, which is released every four years to coincide with presidential terms. The consensus study report provides an explanation of the federal statistical system and offers guiding principles and best practices for federal statistical agencies. According to the report, in order to disseminate relevant, timely, accurate and credible information to the public and policymakers, federal statistical agencies follow four guiding principles: (1) produce objective and relevant information, (2) maintain a credible reputation among data users, (3) build trust among data providers, and (4) remain independent and objective.

This article was contributed by COSSA’s summer intern, Shannon Emmett of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

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Posted in Issue 15 (July 25), Update, Volume 36 (2017)

IRS Statistical Agency Accepting Research Proposals

The Statistics of Income program (SOI) within the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is accepting proposals for its Joint Statistical Research Program. The program, which is generally offered every two years, matches researchers outside the federal government with IRS researchers to work on projects that will deepen our understanding of taxpayer behavior and of how tax policies affect individuals, businesses, and the economy. The IRS hopes that such projects will also lead to the development of new datasets to enhance future tax research.

SOI is particularly interested in proposals addressing the following topics: “Tax administration in a global economy; taxpayer needs and behavior, particularly the roles of information, complexity, salience, engagement, and compliance costs; filing, payment, and reporting compliance measures, behaviors, and drivers; benefit participation measures, behaviors, and drivers, particularly related to the Affordable Care Act; taxpayer response to policy changes, particularly taxpayer responses to changes in incentives; the role of complex business structures in tax planning; and application of new research methods for tax administration, particularly data science, behavioral insights, or other interdisciplinary approaches.”

The 2016 call for proposals is available here. Proposals will be accepted through December 31, 2016.

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Posted in Issue 22 (November 15), Update, Volume 35 (2016)

Committee on National Statistics Releases Report on Reducing Burden in the American Community Survey

The Committee on National Statistics of the Division of Behavioral and Social Science and Education (DBASSE) at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine has published a report on their March workshop dedicated to improving the American Community Survey (ACS). The workshop examined different approaches to reducing the burden on respondents, including reducing the number of questions asked to individual respondents though matrix sampling, eliminating the need for some questions by using administrative records, increasing cooperation with the survey, reducing the length of the survey. The full report is available here.

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Posted in Issue 20 (October 18), Update, Volume 35 (2016)

BEA Releases State-Level Consumer Spending Data

For the first time, the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) will begin regularly releasing official statistics detailing consumer spending by state. The data will include total consumer spending in each state, breakouts of consumer spending in specific categories and sectors, and per-capita consumer spending from 1997 through 2014. BEA began releasing prototype estimates in 2014; previously, only national consumer-spending data was available.

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Posted in Issue 22 (December 1), Update, Volume 34 (2015)

Census Bureau Marks World Statistics Day

The United Nations has designated October 20 World Statistics Day. To commemorate the day, the Census Bureau has released a new infographic to highlight the many ways Census data helps fulfill the 2015 Statistics Day theme, “Better Data. Better Lives.”

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Posted in Issue 19 (October 20), Update, Volume 34 (2015)

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