The 2021 APDU Annual Conference closed with a panel of federal statistical agency leaders including Dr. Ron Jarmin, Acting Director and Chief Operating Officer of the U.S. Census Bureau; Dr. William Beach, Commissioner at U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; Dr. Mary Bohman, Deputy Director of the Bureau of Economic Analysis; and Dr. Mark Schneider, Director of the Institute of Education Sciences. The panel gathered virtually on July 29, 2021, to discuss the challenges of providing trustworthy, accurate, and timely federal statistical data to the public within the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and pandemic recovery.
U.S. Census Bureau
The Census Bureau will not release its standard 1-year estimates from the 2020 American Community Survey (ACS) because of data collection issues arising from the COVID-19 pandemic. During the pandemic, the Census Bureau only collected two-thirds of the responses it typically collects and received less responses from individuals with lower income, lower educational attainment, and those less likely to own their home. The result of these data collection issues resulted in a “nonresponse bias” that failed to meet the Census Bureau’s Statistical Data Quality Standards, the agency guidelines designed to ensure the integrity of the statistical information produced by the Census Bureau. The Census Bureau instead will release experimental estimates developed from 2020 ACS 1-year data.
President Biden’s administration proposed a U.S. Census Bureau budget of $1.5 billion for the fiscal year ending 2022. Dr. Jarmin remarked the proposed budget for FY 2022 was lower than the FY 2021 and FY 2020 budget, but that the Census Bureau was pleased overall with the President’s proposed spending plan.
The Census Bureau, according to Dr. Jarmin, is working on a “process transformation,” prioritizing bringing the Census Bureau into the 21st century by providing timely, accurate, and granular data for all data users. Dr. Jarmin noted the Census Bureau is committed to making, “data more usable for users.” Historically, Dr. Jarmin noted, federal data users have largely been governments. But increasingly, federal data users consist of academics as well as regular citizens. Dr. Jarmin emphasized the Census Bureau’s upcoming priorities will be focused on providing data products for a diverse range of users across backgrounds and levels of data sophistication. For example, The Census Bureau offers the Veterans Employment Outcome data product, where veterans and their families can evaluate the data and make evidence-based career decisions after leaving the military, to maximize their employment outcomes and earnings post-military service.
Other upcoming Census Bureau developments include the August release of demographic characteristics from the 2020 Census. Though the Census Bureau is several months behind its original timeline, Dr. Jarmin reassured audience members that despite challenges arising from COVID-19, the Bureau was able to collect a complete and accurate census count.
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
The U.S. House Appropriations Committee agreed to increase the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ budget by $7.7 million for FY 2022. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics budget priorities, according to Dr. Beach, include evaluating how to upgrade the consumer price index and cost of living index to provide data at greater frequency, restoring statistical capacity by hiring more personnel, and evaluating changes in the retail industry. The Bureau will also begin a new cohort of Longitudinal Study of American Youth for those born around 2010, which is particularly vital for evaluating the long-term impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on America’s youth.
U.S. Institute of Education Sciences
The major agency goal of the Institute of Education Sciences (IES), according to Dr. Schneider, is to modernize the way in which IES conducts its work. Dr. Scneider recognized that education research is time consuming and challenging, and so IES is focused on “failing faster,” to learn from unsuccessful research and prioritize research replication when the work is successful. Like the other statistical federal agencies, IES is also focused on providing relevant, accessible, and intuitive data products and reports that are easy to understand and use by data users of all backgrounds. IES is focused on providing research that is useful and convenient to practitioners, academics, the public, and governments. To that end, IES is now requiring grantees to submit “dissemination plans,” a formal agreement that research conducted with IES data will be disseminated to a wide audience or to policymakers, rather than being exclusively published in a potentially inaccessible academic journal. IES is also prioritizing “audience segmentation studies” to tailor work according to specific audiences who utilize IES research and working to provide effective data visualization. “Data visualization is only useful within the context of the audience,” remarked Dr. Schneider.
U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis
The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, according to Dr. Mary Bohman, is focused on providing timely, transparent, and innovative data. Innovations taking place at the Bureau include an improved methodology for measuring personal consumption expenditures for housing services on tenant and owner-occupied housing for the period of 2002-2022, as part of the upcoming annual update of the National Income and Product Accounts. There are also forthcoming improvements to provide more state-level data on consumer spending and data on personal consumption and real personal income in metropolitan areas by state.
Dr. Bohman noted the Bureau’s budget is in good shape for FY 2021 and will receive a $14 million increase for FY 2022. Part of the budget increase is for the implementation of the Evidence Act, a 2019 federal law which, “emphasizes collaboration and coordination to advance data and evidence-building functions in the Federal Government by statutorily mandating Federal evidence-building activities, open government data, and confidential information protection and statistical efficiency,” according to a federal memorandum by the Office of Management and Budget.
Overall, Dr. Jarmin, Dr. Beach, Dr. Bohman, and Dr. Schneider emphasized their agency’s dedication to providing and disseminating accurate, relevant, accessible, and timely data. The COVID-19 pandemic presented administrative and logistical challenges for each agency, but most federal partners noted they were pleased with the performance of their respective agencies during the pandemic and feel confident in the resiliency of their departments during times of emergency and stress. Each federal partner noted they are looking to the future to provide transparent and relevant data products for data users of all backgrounds and abilities.