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Government Data is a National Treasure | APPAM Leadership Blog Series

June 7, 2018 12:42 PM

Welcome to the APPAM Leadership Blog Series! Each month you will hear from our Executive Director, President or President-Elect, providing APPAM membership a behind-the-scenes look at how APPAM operates and how you can be more involved. Our authors will introduce new initiatives, discuss current policy topics and share resources they value. 

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David_JohnsonBy David Johnson, APPAM President

APPAM has always supported government data. We even state in our strategic plan: “APPAM should continue to press for the use of research in policymaking and the ongoing need to improve the policy data infrastructure.”  For without government data, “Americans could experience the economic equivalent of flying blind,” as stated by Erica Groshen, former Commissioner of the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). For more see the 2017 Fall Conference Symposium.

Having worked for 25 years in the Federal Statistical System, I have seen first-hand the importance of high quality data and the direct influence it has on government policy. And this is only possible because of sufficient funding, leadership, and dedicated staff.

At this time, both the Census Bureau and BLS are operating without a Director or a Commissioner. However, that does not mean that these agencies lack leadership. At Census, the current acting Director (Ron Jarmin) and acting Deputy Director (Enrique Lamas) together have over 60 years of experience working at the Census Bureau. In fact, their actual titles are performing the non-exclusive functions and duties of the Director [or Deputy Director] of the U.S. Census Bureau.

Because of my experience at Census, I know that these two, along with the Census staff, will perform the necessary functions with expertise, and be able to conduct an accurate Census. However, they need a Senate-confirmed Census Director. While the current leadership can perform the activities of the Bureau, they need the support of Congress and the Administration.

Robert Groves (former Census Director during the 2010 Census) provided the best insight recently at the Population Association of America Annual conference. He suggested that the Census Bureau needs someone who has the authority from Congress (Senate confirmed) to fight for the Bureau, both for funding and to uphold the law of Title 13. Only with this authority they can ensure that confidentiality and privacy are protected.

But the statistical agencies cannot do it without us. Working together does make a difference.

I recall my first years at the Census Bureau (in 2006-2007) when the Administration proposed eliminating a key national data collection – the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP). It was only with the coordinated effort of data users, researchers, and organizations that signatures from Senators and Representatives were obtained for a letter to “save the SIPP.” Support matters.

We all have a responsibility to ensure that the data we use for any analysis is accurate, timely, objective and relevant (which are the goals of the statistical system; see OMB statistical policy directive). Write your Representative, sign a letter of support, read the latest posts from COPAFS (the Council of Professional Associations on Federal Statistics) or the Census Project.

And always remember to thank the federal agency staff who work hard to provide us with accurate, reliable and timely data.

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