Summary of the December 9, 2005 COPAFS Meeting

COPAFS Chair Sarah Zapolsky started the meeting by introducing Ed for his executive director’s report.

Ed Spar. Executive Director’s Report.

Ed noted the passing of longtime COPAFS member Ed Goldfield, who died just weeks after he attended the September 13 COPAFS meeting. As we recalled Goldfield’s career, one could not help noticing the empty chair where he used to sit.

Turning to budgets, Ed reported that while the Census Bureau got a favorable appropriation, the Labor, Health and Education budget is in no man’s, as the bill was voted down. As we have heard before, the Bureau of Transportation Statistics has been dealt a large decline that will affect its survey activities. And even they get another director, it will no longer be a presidential appointee. Some budget suspense remains, as there may be a recision—or across the board cut to be absorbed by all agencies.

Next, Ed described how the National Science Foundation pushed for, and almost got, the addition of a “field of study” question to the ACS. Census Bureau and OMB rules require that such additions go through Congress, but somehow this one was being introduced through the NASA budget. Ed described the situation as strange. Ed praised the Office of Immigration Statistics’ increasing statistical activity, but expressed concern with the transfer of the agency to the policy area of the Department of Homeland Security.

Representative Candice Miller (R-MI) has proposed a constitutional amendment to require that the census only count U.S. citizens for apportionment. Ed described a recent hearing on the proposal as “mostly theater, but good theater,” but he also said it was messy, with Miller blurring the distinction between non-citizens and unauthorized aliens. Ed does not expect the proposal to get anywhere this year, but suggested that the issue is by no means dead.

COPAFS meeting dates for 2006 are March 10, June 9, September 15, and December 8.

Proposed Revisions to OMB Statistical Policy Directives 1 and 2: Standards for Statistical Surveys and Publication of Statistics.

Brian Harris-Kojetin. Office of Management and Budget.

Harris-Kojetin described OMB’s role in developing, overseeing, and implementing policies and standards for federal statistics, and cited recent work in this area, including revisions to the standards for data on race and ethnicity and for the definition of metropolitan areas. His focus today was on Directives 1 and 2, which establish standards for surveys and the publication of statistics. These standards were last updated in about 1974, when surveys used paper and pencil methods, and stored data on punch cards.

The revision process began with the formation of an interagency team as a subcommittee of the Federal Committee on Statistical Methodology. This team reviewed the previous standards, and submitted proposed standards and guidelines to OMB, which were published in a Federal Register notice for public comment. The proposal includes 20 standards, or broad principles, and more detailed guidelines for survey and publication practices.

Some of the proposed standards concern survey planning, survey justification, and survey design—defining the target population sampling plan, costs and measurement of error. Several guidelines relate to response rates and bias (for example, planning for an analysis of nonresponse bias if the expected response rate is below 80 percent). Harris-Kojetin described the guidelines as “shoulds rather than musts.” Responding to an attendee’s comment that the proposed standards have loopholes, Harris-Kojetin preferred to describe it as flexibility in how the standards are administered. Other standards relate to data collection (maximize response rate and minimize respondent burden), processing and editing, evaluation, analysis and reporting, documentation, and the production of estimates and projections.

The Federal Register notice generated only about a half dozen comments from agencies and others. OMB will review and address these before releasing final standards, probably in early 2006. The proposed standards can be reviewed on the OMB website

An Update from Capitol Hill.

John Cuaderes. Subcommittee on Federalism and the Census.
Terri Ann Lowenthal. Consultant.

Cuaderes opened with a quick recap of the hearings the subcommittee has held to assess the hurdles facing the 2010 census, and said he expects oversight activity to ramp up during 2006. Before elaborating, Cuaderes asked if any Census Bureau staff were present. A round of chuckles answered the question as he good naturedly promised to temper his remarks. Levity aside, the subcommittee is concerned with the planned use of new technology, such as the hand held computers, as other agencies have had trouble introducing such technologies, and there is concern that the technology requires greater reliance on private contractors. The subcommittee accepts handheld computers as a great idea, but wants to be sure that the Census Bureau can “pull this off for the 2010 census.” The subcommittee also is considering the need for a Census Monitoring Board. If one is established, Cuaderes stressed that an objective would be to have what he called a “fairer makeup” than that of the 2000 Monitoring Board.

Cuaderes closed by noting that ACS funding dodged a bullet this year, but expressed his expectation that it will be another six appropriations cycles before Congress leaves the ACS alone. Until then, we can expect Congress to attack it every year. As Cuaderes put it, congressional members like the census and its data, but they vote against its budget because it is an easy target, and the Census Bureau does not fight back. With this in mind, he encourages the Census Bureau and stakeholders to develop strategies for educating members on the importance of the ACS and its full funding.

Lowenthal reported that the Census Project—successor to the Census 2000 Initiative—has been funded for 2006, and will continue to provide News Briefs, and function as a loose coalition of census stakeholders. Given current pressures, she considers it remarkable that the final Census appropriation was so close to the House mark, and credited stakeholder efforts with having an impact on the outcome. Lowenthal called on stakeholder groups to remain energized, and called on the Census Bureau to listen to the concerns of the stakeholder groups who have been so effective in going to bat for the Census Bureau’s budget.

Lowenthal then commented on the proposed amendment that would exclude non-citizens from the census count, and to the ongoing debate over where to count prisoners. The Census Bureau has already dismissed the idea of counting prisoners at their pre-incarceration addresses, but Congress is requiring that the Census Bureau test the option, and Lowenthal expects advocacy groups to continue pushing this issue.

Cuaderes interjected that any such change in the counting of prisoners would require legislation that would have to go through the subcommittee, and that “we would oppose” that legislation. He then expressed the view that while the non-citizen amendment may go nowhere, the issue will not simply go away. Cuaderes then took the opportunity to note that the subcommittee is considering the possibility of an enhanced ACS for the hurricane impact area—as Congress realizes the need to track changes in areas where so much federal money is to be spent.

New Orleans Neighborhoods: Stories of Local Data Use Before, During and After the Storm.

Denice Warren. Information Systems Designer, Greater New Orleans Community Data Center.

In this special lunchtime presentation, Denice Warren described her personal experience as a New Orleans resident now living in Phoenix, AZ, and her work with the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center (GNOCDC) during the post-hurricane period. Warren took just a moment to describe how homesick she is, but then got right to the business of describing the GNOCDC, and giving us a tour of the website (in slide form). They do not collect data, but rather handpick data from existing sources to support a variety of applications. Pre-hurricane applications included things like the mapping of New Orleans neighborhoods, analyses of income disparity, and grant applications. Before Katrina, the website got about 5,000 hits per month, but the numbers swelled to 40,000 this September and 80,000 in October. The media were heavy users of their website (sometimes citing, sometimes not), and Warren expressed satisfaction with her group’s ability to focus some of the coverage at the neighborhood level—rather than simply greater New Orleans.

Even as Warren and her colleagues had their lives disrupted (they are now scattered across the U.S.), they not only kept their operation going, but responded to the huge spike in inquiries and requests – ranging from informational (the elevation of New Orleans schools or data on historic housing) to pleas for help from evacuees concerned about the fate of loved ones who had not evacuated. Warren explained that Katrina has forced them to broaden their focus to include FEMA, environmental, and other data sources, which would have seemed “exotic” before the storm. Among the tables and maps Warren presented, one of the more striking was a map showing how much of New Orleans has housing that is still uninhabitable.

Beyond the data and maps, and between the lines of her remarks, Warren’s story illustrates how sought after basic data become in a time of disaster, and that data providers can be among those delivering critical services under difficult circumstances. When one attendee suggested that Warren should give her presentation on Capitol Hill, Andrew Reamer of Brookings Institution (where Warren presented in October) commented that she has presented to selected members, and played an important role in the recent education effort on behalf of the Census Bureau budget.

Post Katrina/Rita: What do we know?

Carol Moylan. Bureau of Economic Analysis.
William Parks.
Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Margot Anderson.
Energy Information Administration.
Pilip Ross,
Environmental Protection Agency.
Edith McArther.
National Center for Education Statistics.
Marcie Cynamon,
James Weed, National Center for Health Statistics.
Ron Jarmin.
U.S. Census Bureau.

The final session consisted of a panel from several federal agencies describing the impact of the hurricanes on their statistical work.

Carol Moylan of BEA explained that Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is not directly affected by the loss of property, but is indirectly affected by economic activity in response to hurricanes and other disasters. It is net domestic product that is affected (reduced) by the destruction of fixed assets. But where the reduction is reflected depends on insurance – if the property was insured, the insurance sector takes the hit. There is also a direct impact on income and corporate profits. GDP is not directly affected because these losses are offset by an increase in the “consumption of fixed capital”—in the form of non-repairable damage to structures or equipment. Moylan presented third quarter 2005 numbers showing the lack of change in GDP – as a $317.6 billion increase in the consumption of fixed capital (destruction) was offset by a $317.6 billion decrease in national income. This loss consists of $14 billion in proprietor income, $68.1 billion in rental income of persons, $151.2 billion in corporate profits, $69.7 billion in business current transfer payments, and $14.6 billion in surplus of government enterprises. The numbers may not explain the workings of the national accounts, but they convey the dollar magnitude of the hurricane impact.

William Parks of BLS reviewed labor force impacts, noting that prior to the hurricanes, the 100 most affected counties (eligible for FEMA assistance) accounted for 2.7 million jobs (2.1 percent of US total), 163,000 business establishments (1.9 percent of US total, and $87 billion in wages (1.7 percent of US total). Even when narrowing to areas identified on the FEMA flood and damage assessment maps, the impact includes 373,000 jobs, 22,000 establishments, and $3.5 billion in wages. Turning to before/after data, Parks noted that from August to September, Louisiana lost 240,000 jobs—the largest one month state level drop ever recorded. Employment in New Orleans metro is down 209,000 compared with last year. The 5.4 percentage point increase in Louisiana’s unemployment rate (from August to September) is the largest 1-month increase ever recorded for a state, and the 21 point increase in Gulfport-Biloxi is the highest recorded for any metro area. The impact is evident even at the national level, where total nonfarm employment had been growing at about 190,000 per month, but growth in September was only 17,000, and unemployment jumped from 4.9 to 5.1 percent. Parks described a number of special efforts at BLS, including the addition of special questions to the CPS to track the labor force status of hurricane evacuees.

Margot Anderson of EIA described that they prepare data to support decisions related to the energy industry, and noted that Katrina and Rita were the most serious disasters to ever hit the industry. In the post-hurricane period, EIA monitored the dramatic changes in energy supply and prices. They also do short-term forecasts of energy demand, and for the first time have provided these for alternative scenarios – reflecting assumptions of fast, medium or slow recovery. They have since refined these forecasts, as actual recovery has proved to be slow, following some initial rebound. EIA does not expect a full recovery until March/April 2006, but Anderson noted the great resiliency of the energy industry. She also noted that EIA did not do any special data collection, but looking back, commented that they could have used more information on on-shore natural gas.

Philip Ross observed that while EPA is a regulatory—not statistical—agency, it collects large amounts of data. To those surveying human subjects, EPA’s collection of data from the environment may seem straightforward, but Ross pointed to the challenges they face in interpretation. For example, environmental data from New Orleans will have to be interpreted to decide when areas can be re-populated, and these interpretations will be made in a highly political context. And data collection itself has been a challenge in the hurricane impact areas. The storms destroyed many electromechanical data collection devices, and EPA is working with local officials to determine areas where data collection has become most important. EPA will confront another challenge in monitoring the environmental impacts when the demolition of large amounts of housing begins.

Like most agencies, NCES has used existing data to determine what was in the impact areas before the hurricanes hit. Edith McArther reported, for example, that 168 post-secondary institutions were potentially affected (in the impact areas), but that probably only 50-60 actually were affected. McArther said NCES hopes to do separate surveys of institutions in the affected areas, and noted that they already have a longitudinal survey of students in the field that has identified many affected by the hurricanes. She presented maps of the affected areas showing the location of schools, noting that most surveys are mail questionnaires to schools, and thus affected by the status of mail delivery. For those surveys involving interviews with students, she noted the need for sensitivity to what the respondents in the impact areas have been through.

Marcie Cynamon focused on three NCHS surveys – the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), the National Immunization Survey (NIS), and the State and Local Areas Integrated Telephone Survey (SLAITS) – and how they are impacted by the hurricanes. For example, because some NHIS primary sampling units are in the hurricane area, and because displaced persons in households are not probed, they believe they have lost large numbers of interviews. The NIS telephone survey of households with children 19-35 months (to monitor vaccination coverage) has also been disrupted. Interviewing has been restored in many areas, but not yet New Orleans. SLAITS uses the NIS sampling frame, and is now collecting two-year information on children with special healthcare needs that provides a basis for tracking hurricane impacts. For example, questions are being added in 2006 to identify the healthcare impacts on displaced persons.

James Weed, also of NCHS, described the disruption to the vital statistics system, in which data are collected locally, sent to the states, and then to NCHS. Among the ongoing issues, the Louisiana vital statistics office was in a New Orleans building that is no longer accessible. The function was initially moved to Baton Rouge, and later to Metarie, LA. The electronic birth registration system is not functioning, and no electronic data have been received since Katrina. Many local employees involved in the vital statistics program are either gone or retired, and Weed described the lack of nosologists (who code cause of death) as a particular problem. Then there is the impact on the vital statistics themselves, For example, Texas and Mississippi are now reporting large numbers of births to residents of Louisiana. The impacts on the data for the New Orleans area remain to be seen, but Weed expects they will be severe.

Ron Jarmin stressed that damage from the hurricanes was highly localized, and described Census Bureau efforts to assess the impacts (on business establishments and employees) with greater precision than that achieved with the often-cited state and county level data. He described the GIS overlay of small area census geography on the FEMA flood and damage assessment maps, enabling the classification of census blocks by type of impact. The next step was to geocode business addresses to blocks, to identify the number and characteristics of businesses in impacted areas. Because it is more geographically precise, this approach provides a more precise picture, and therefore smaller estimates of damage. However, the inability to geocode many business addresses to small area census geography is an issue, and further reduces the resulting estimates. The results of this work are available on the Census Bureau’s website

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