Council of Professional Associations on Federal Statistics

Minutes of the Quarterly Meeting
Friday, March 14, 2003
9:00am to 3:00pm
Bureau of Labor Statistics Conference Center

Report from the Board of Directors & Update on Recent Developments and Council Activities.

COPAFS chair Don Muff opened the meeting, and made note that this was the 10th Anniversary of Ed Spar with COPAFS, and a round of applause was given to thank Ed for his fantastic work so far. He then turned it over to Ed Spar for the Executive Director's report.

Ed welcomed Christine Kormann from Eurostat and Louis Kincannon, Director of Census to our meeting.

Ed distributed tables from the recently released A.C.E. Revision II report, in which the Census Bureau reports revised coverage measures for the 2000 census. The revised figures suggest a net national overcount of 0.49 percent. Census director Louis Kincannon was attending the morning session, so Ed asked if he would like to comment. Kincannon simply remarked that "If you study the numbers, they speak for themselves," and Ed recommended that we do just that.

Turning to the budgets, Ed commented that the final 2003 numbers are not great, but much better than had been feared. However, NCHS did not do well, and COPAFS is continuing efforts in support of the NCHS budget. There is still uncertainty over the Bureau of Transportation Statistics budget since the agency is in a re-authorization process. The good news on the ACS budget is that it is enough to maintain the supplementary survey for 2003, as well as the 31 test sites, and the test of voluntary vs. mandatory responses on 2004. The plan is to begin full implementation in the fourth quarter of FY 2004.

Next, Ed described the implications of changes proposed for OMB's Circular A-76. In its proposed form, all government functions would be deemed commercial unless they are "inherently governmental," and anything not inherently governmental would have to go to bid. Ed commented that this could lead to the outsourcing of many government surveys, and would not be good for the statistical agencies. The revisions are only in draft form now, but Ed promised that COPAFS will follow developments closely with OMB. In the meantime, more information on A-76 is available at www.govexec.com and www.regulations.gov.

Ed then drew our attention to a handout on the new House of Representatives committee structure relating to census oversight. He finished by noting that the Economic Census questionnaires are coming in well, and that COPAFS is now participating in the funding of Terri Ann Lowenthal's census news briefs. He also reported that Congress has restored funding for the BLS statistics on mass layoffs. Plans to eliminate the layoff statistics had been reported, and had caused considerable concern.

Finally, Ed made mention that Valina Plisco is now the acting director of NES. There will also be a presentation next session on Section 508: Data Availability for the Disabled, during the next meeting.

Meeting Humanitarian Assistance Needs Using Geo-Referenced Population Data

David Rain. US. Census Bureau
(Robert Leddy, Co-author.)

David works with the Census Bureau's International Programs Center (IPC), which has a largely demographic focus, but also has a group that provides population and geographic data needed by agencies providing humanitarian response. He explained that because of the poor quality of international census data, there is a need for basic population data that are geo-referenced. Specifically, agencies involved in disaster response need better data on where people live in non-crisis times, refugee movement, and affected populations. In other words, there is a need for small area population estimates.

IPC's work in this area is funded by USAID, and the objective is to provide ballpark population estimates for places in countries that are experiencing crises (such as natural disasters and civil war), and which are without recent census data. Places, in this context, are points of service for humanitarian response, and these places need to be identified by unique codes, latitude/longitude coordinates, and names. David talked of the need for "bar-coded villages" with unique IDs to prevent confusion.

Only limited information is sought for these places-primarily total population, since the top priority is knowing where people are located. Resources contributing to these population estimates include National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA) data on populated places," as well as data on nighttime lights, land area, roads and other infrastructure.

The work dates back only to 2000, and is still largely experimental-involving procedures such as assigning greater weight to areas near nighttime lights, highways, and landcover conducive to population. David then presented maps and described some of their work in several countries in Africa. He described existing resources as insufficient, and noted that the use of remote sensing is still to be explored. Although promising, remote sensing involves cost and other obstacles, especially in areas with dense tree canopies, or housing structures that would be difficult to distinguish from ground cover.

David reiterated that their work is just starting, but noted that they will be evaluating the performance of their methods against published census data where available. The results of these evaluations will be published.

Economic Indicators at the Conference Board

Robert McGuckin. The Conference Board

Bob started with an overview of the Conference Board, which he described as a private, global membership organization, founded in 1916. Its objective is to create and disseminate information about management and the marketplace worldwide, thereby helping the performance of its business clients. The focus is on large multi-national corporations, but Bob noted that the Conference Board itself is non-profit and non-partisan. Its activities include research, education, conferences (100-125 per year), and councils related to specific functions (e.g., chief financial officers). They also provide research reports, periodicals, briefings, and data products.

Bob remarked that "the Conference Board is all about economic measurement," and has a long history-having developed the Consumer Price Index before it was transferred to BLS in the 1940s. They currently maintain a wide range of economic indicators, with the better-known examples measuring help wanted notices, consumer confidence, productivity and per capita income. Other products include the U.S. composite coincident index, the regional performance index, and the business confidence index.

Bob then described the Business Cycle Indicators Program, which was transferred from BEA in 1995. The Conference Board started updating these indicators in 1996, has introduced revisions, and is trying to get them closer to "real time." He described the program as an indicator approach to measuring business cycles, with the objective being to identify turning points. He then described the Global Indicators Research Institute, which has introduced consistent indexes for eight countries, and Tracking Productivity Worldwide, an annual report on performance related to labor productivity and income growth.

Conference Board data are anxiously awaited by the press, so Bob described the press and confidentiality procedures used when major indicators are released. He said the procedures are similar to those used by the federal statistical agencies, but they do not have a lock up room. Bob finished by making a case for the private production of economic indicators-arguing that businesses trust such numbers as nonpartisan, especially in countries with a history of political influence on government data.

An Update from Capitol Hill

Chip Walker. Subcommittee on Technology, Information Policy, Intergovernmental Relations and Census
David McMillen. Committee on Government Reform and Oversight.
Terri Ann Lowenthal. Consultant

Chip opened the latest in this series of sessions by noting the changes effective with the new Congress. Adam Putnam (R-FL) is the third chair of the census subcommittee in recent years. Chip described him as young but bright-lacking in census experience, but showing real interest, "asking all the right questions, and coming up to speed quickly." In pointing out the subcommittee's new name (Technology, Information Policy, Intergovernmental Relations and Census) Chip commented that the presence of "Census" is encouraging, as many of the subcommittee's functions are not in the name. Tom Davis (R-VA) is now chair of the full committee.

Chip noted that when he made his last COPAFS visit, the census was in "budget limbo," and they were working hard to maintain ACS funding at its previous level. He expressed satisfaction that they were able to accomplish that, and attributed it to a commitment at high levels to see that the ACS is not hurt by the budget process. Chip then touched briefly on the voluntary ACS test (now in the field), the 2004 test of Americans living overseas, and the revised undercount estimates. His remarks reflected the view that the revised estimates reaffirm the decision against adjustment, and the need to press ahead with 2010 census planning. He described as "most satisfying," the fact that the decision against adjustment was made not by the White House, but by the Census Bureau. Chip concluded by noting that we can expect to see a hearing on the ACS in May, but he downplayed the importance of such hearings, indicating that the bulk of their information gathering comes from regular contact with the Census Bureau.

David opened by noting that as recession and war loom, and budgets become tighter, statistical agencies are vulnerable, and often the first to be cut. Without citing Circular A-76 by name, he suggested we watch out for interest in privatizing government functions. David noted such a movement at Justice, and warned that there could be an impact on the impartiality of federal statistics. Imagine, he suggested, if GDP measures were produced by a company that was donating to the administration's political campaign. David then commented that Census 2010 planning is well underway, with budget allocations already in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Priorities from his view include the need to further improve the MAF, as well as the ability to count non-traditional households and populations not living in housing (including the homeless and those in group quarters).

Terri Ann observed that the administration's 2004 census budget request is less than its request for 2003, and commented that, with 2004 being the starting point for the next census cycle, this is a point where census funding should increase rather than decrease. The request specific to 2010 planning is up from the 2003 request, but even this could be "problematic," as appropriators will note that it is far more than 2010 planning actually received for 2003.

The revised ACS plan now calls for full implementation in the fourth quarter of FY 2004, but as Terri Ann noted, this schedule puts the most costly part of the three month data collection cycle into FY2005. In other words, full implementation would launch not because (requested) 2004 funding covers it, but because much of the cost is deferred to FY2005. Full implementation could be sustained only if funding is significantly increased for FY2005. Terri Ann went on to note that, even if full implementation is achieved on this schedule, users would not see large area data until 2006, and 5-year average data until 2010. Accordingly, there is a sense of urgency in achieving sustained full implementation sooner rather than later.

Terri Ann observed that stakeholders still appear interested in the ACS and census, but commented that the Census Bureau needs stakeholder support more now (during the lull in census interest) than later in the decade. She was pointed in urging stakeholders to "step up to the plate, and make a leap of faith for the ACS." The reality is that users will not be able to do all the ACS testing they want, and if funding for full implementation is to be achieved, Congress needs to hear strong support for the ACS in unqualified terms. Terri Ann cautioned that if there is no ACS, we cannot assume there will be a traditional long form. She concluded with an observation about the need to educate all the congressional members who are new to census oversight.

Chip followed through on Terri Ann's remarks by noting that census is up against 30 to 40 other programs which also have dedicated supporters, and made the point that there will not be both an ACS and a long form in 2010. He added that, while the subcommittee has always taken an interest in Bureau of Economic Analysis programs, BEA is now among its formal oversight responsibilities.\

GAO: Users and Evaluators of Federal Statistics

Robert Parker. General Accounting Office

Bob explained that GAO is part of the legislative branch, and publishes reports on federal agency activities. About 15 percent of their work is mandated by legislation, while about 75 percent is in response to congressional requests. The other 10 percent is initiated by GAO itself-based on work they think they will need. All mandated work must be completed, but there are protocols for deciding which requests they actually respond to.

GAO work on statistical programs has been infrequent, and focused largely on the census. They have done little work on the federal statistical system as a whole-in part because the system is so decentralized. Bob explained that GAO also functions as a statistical agency in that it conducts surveys-collecting its own data when necessary to investigate certain topics, such as voters with disabilities. However, they often use agency data-as in a study of Social Security adequacy that was based largely on SIPP data. Bob commented that GAO has done more with demographic than economic statistics because Congress is more interested in persons than businesses. He noted that sometimes the law allows GAO access to sensitive data sets, and that one might wonder if such access might be impaired by the extension of Title 13 protection under the Data Sharing Act. However, Bob indicated that they can complete most of their work with the microdata files available to all researchers.

Recent GAO reports on the federal statistical system covered topics including the Paperwork Reduction Act, Statistical Agency Consolidation, Information Resources Management, the ACS and the CPI. Looking to the future, GAO may be asked to look into the impact of the proposed OMB Circular A-76 revisions on the statistical agencies, and has a major interest in the 2010 census. For now, GAO sees Census 2010 as "a challenge but not high risk." In response to a question, Bob attributed this view to the early start on census planning, and downplayed its significance. But as part of the follow up discussion on the consequences of being judged a "high risk," John Thompson, associate director for the 2000 census (and now attending COPAFS for NORC) volunteered that it is "no fun."

Concerns of COPAFS Constituencies

None.

The meeting adjourned at 3:00 pm.

Submitted by Sarah Zapolsky, AARP, Secretary COPAFS with gratitude to Ken Hodges for providing significant input and content to these minutes.

Attendees

  • John Munyon SeekData, Inc.

  • John Leffler SeekData, Inc.

  • Richard Forestal Assn. of American Geographers

  • Patricia Becker APDU/ SEMCC

  • Ken Hodges PAA / Claritas

  • Sarah Zapolsky AARP

  • Stephen Tordella Decision Demographics

  • Robert McGuckin AEA

  • Dorothy Harshbarger NAPHSIS

  • Sally T. Hillsman American Sociological Association

  • Lee Herring American Sociological Association

  • Louis Kincannon Census Bureau

  • Thurgood A. Adams IASSIST

  • Seth Grimes AltaPlana

  • John Thompson NORC

  • Bill Lidington Beyond 20/20

  • Fred Cavanaugh Sabre Systems, Inc.

  • Ralph Rector The Heritage Foundation

  • Christine Kormann Eurostat

  • Carolee Bush Census Bureau

  • Pat Doyle ASA

  • Vincent Lannacchione RTI International

  • William Kandel RSS

  • Linda Jacobsen Assoc. of Public Data Users

  • Chuck Waite NABE

  • Margaret Martin COPAFS

  • Jerry Fletcher AAEA

  • Maurine Haver NABE

  • Judie Mopsik Abt Associates

  • Rick Ayers ESRI

  • David Rain Census Bureau

  • Don Muff Muff Consulting Services

  • Howard Leathers AAEA

  • Kent Hargesheimer SRC

  • Robert Parker GAO

  • E.D. Goldfield Census Bureau, CNSTAT

  • Verna Learnard BEA

  • Terri Ann Lowenthal Consultant

  • David McMillen Government Reform - Dems.

  • John Cromartie AAG

  • John Kaualiuna U.S. Census Bureau

  • Nancy Torrioeri U.S. Census Bureau

  • Rob Weinzimer NCHS

  • Jack Wells BTS

  • Kelvin Pollard Population Reference Bureau

  • Ken Bryson Census Bureau

  • Jennifer Williams Congressional Research Service

  • Grace Moe U.S. Census Bureau

  • Chet Bowie Census Bureau

  • Leslie Scott ESSI

  • Andrea Petro OMB

  • Colleen Flannery U.S. Census Bureau

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