COPAFS
 

Summary of March 12, 2004 COPAFS Meeting

COPAFS chair Don Muff opened the meeting, and we went directly to Ed Spar's executive director's report.

Ed reported that, due to an Inspector General's meeting, Jay Waite would not be able to present as scheduled, and that Carol Van Horn would present in his place. Ed then directed our attention to the handout package, which included a document distributed to the Hill, in which COPAFS provides background and budget information on the federal statistical agencies. Also in the package was an OMB Bulletin describing the latest revisions to the new metropolitan areas.

Turning to the budgets, Ed reminded us that the full 2004 funding approved for the ACS was about $65 million, and that the request for 2005-the first full year of full implementation, will be about $165 million. Ed explained that the large increase requested for NCHS is not to support new programs, but is an effort to get the National Health Interview Survey back on track. As described in previous COPAFS meetings, the NHIS has been cut back in recent years. The good news for NCES is that it has a new commissioner-Bob Lerner-who is very concerned with the agency's independence, and other important issues. Ed noted that the Committee on National Statistics is looking for a new director, and invited us to submit names to Myron Straf.

Ed then described a White House economic report that has prompted discussion of what exactly constitutes manufacturing, as some in the press have charged the report seeks to minimize the reduction in manufacturing employment. One could debate, for example, whether "flipping burgers at McDonalds" is a service or manufacturing activity. The meeting package included an excerpt describing how the boundary between manufacturing and other activity is blurred in the NAICS definitions. For example, mixing water with concentrate to make soft drinks is classified as manufacturing, but if it is performed at a snack bar, it is classified as a service.

Remaining COPAFS meetings this year are scheduled for June 11, September 17, and December 10.

Latest Revisions to the National Income and Products Accounts

Steven Landefeld, Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Steve started with the observation that BEA has had a productive year in improving the accuracy and timeliness of its data, while at the same time facing challenges in the area of information technology. He was pleased to report that they had achieved improved (apparently the highest possible) ratings from OMB in its assessment of BEA programs.

In the statistical area, Steve noted with satisfaction that BEA was able to revise its major statistical products (such as the GDP) without rewriting economic history-in other words, without major revisions to previous data. With respect to the national accounts, hedonic and other adjustments achieved improved estimates-again, without major disruptions to the data. Turning to international accounts, Steve noted that they are accelerating the release of monthly international trade data, have filled gaps in the coverage of assets and liabilities, and have completed the incorporation of NAICS. BEA has also incorporated NAICS in the regional accounts, where gross state product (GSP) data have been accelerated, and a new interactive website has been launched.

Looking at the challenges ahead, Steve explained that in presidential election years, BEA is usually accused (by one side, the other, or both) of cooking the books. Most recently, Bob Novak charged that BEA sought to hide negative economic news tracing to the Clinton-Gore administration. Steve described such accusations are groundless, and attributed many issues to the tradeoff between the timeliness and accuracy of data. A current hot topic is the exporting of jobs to low wage countries. BEA data actually suggest more outsourcing to high wage countries, but Steve cautioned that BEA data are only current through 2001. The problem is that such accusations are often remembered, and Steve noted that the private sector can play a role in defending BEA.

BEA's near-term challenges include remaining coverage problems in the data on new industries, and even old industries, such as manufacturing, agriculture, and mining. Payroll data have become a particular problem, as they cover only hourly workers, and therefore miss many high salary workers. Steve described BEA's strategic plan for FY2004-FY2008, which includes numerous objectives for improved timeliness and coverage of the national, international, and regional data. The plan is on the BEA website, and public comment is sought through the end of March.

The Status of the American Community Survey

Carol Van Horn,U.S. Census Bureau.

Carol Van Horn, Assistant Director for ACS and Decennial Census, was substituting for Jay Waite on very short notice. Carol began by noting that full ACS implementation will begin this July, with the full sample of 250,000 per month covering all U.S. counties-using the same data collection methods used in the ACS tests. Data collection in Puerto Rico is set for 2005, and we can expect the first data from full implementation during Summer 2006. Funding for FY2005 is a high priority, but the Bureau is confident they will secure the $165 million required for the first full year of full ACS implementation.

Carol reminded us that the results of the voluntary ACS test (released in December) indicated a cost increase of about $60 million if response is not mandatory. Consequently, Congress has allowed the ACS to proceed as a mandatory survey.

ACS education and outreach are becoming and issue, and GAO has called for a more proactive approach to preparing federal agencies and other users for the fact that the ACS will provide them with new data every year. Carol noted that the Census Bureau is holding meetings with federal agencies-explaining the ACS, and coaching users on how to use the new data (including multi-year averages) every year. Outreach has included recent visits by Census officials to Puerto Rico, Albany, NY and Colorado.

In response to a question on the designation of tract aggregations to enable the publication of ACS data for areas within large government units, Carol commented that the Census Bureau is considering this option, and is doing preliminary work on how this would best be accomplished. However, she made it clear that working out the ACS basics is a higher priority. Asked about 2003 Supplementary Survey, Carol confirmed that data from the 2003 survey would be released this summer. In response to a question on item nonresponse, Carol, did not have specific rates committed to memory, but commented that it is not a major ACS concern. This is largely because-in contrast to the 2000 census long form-the ACS does include follow up for item nonresponse.

Carol acknowledged that public resistance to ACS questions could become an issue, and noted that the Census Bureau is preparing to respond to criticisms if they arise. Response would include visits to relevant congressional offices, and education on the need for ACS data. She noted that outreach and promotion through a 2000-style advertising campaign is not realistic for an ongoing sample survey such as the ACS, and that the best opportunity for education and promotion is in the ACS mailing itself.

An Update from Capitol Hill Chip Walker, Subcommittee on Technology, Information Policy, Intergovernmental Relations and Census.

David McMillen, Committee on Government Reform and Oversight.

Chip described his recent trip to the Census Bureau's Jeffersonville, IN facility, and how impressed he was with the operation. The trip was prompted by congressional interest in mail security, and ensuring that census forms are free from bio-terrorism. There is concern both with forms mailed to and from the Census Bureau, and concern that a bio-terrorism event-even if fake-could severely disrupt the census. The immediate objective is to identify what steps can be taken to guard against such an event, and how much they will cost. Chip noted, that for obvious reasons, they will not tell the public much about what these steps are.

The ACS is proceeding as scheduled per the president's budget, and that the overseas census test is going on in Mexico, Kuwait and France. Glitches encountered so far include the French government initially saying that such a data collection would violate French privacy laws, customs officials in Kuwait holding up census forms, and unreliable mail service in Mexico. Chip described these as examples of the kinds of difficulties that the test is designed to identify.

Chip then made reference to the fact that the subcommittee is monitoring MAF/TIGER enhancements, and will be supportive of the work that needs to get done.

Chip also explained that this would be his last COPAFS meeting, as he is leaving to pursue a position on the "association side." He declined to make a parting prediction on the FY2005 budget, but noted that Census still faces stiff competition for funding. He stressed that the subcommittee will fight for census funding, does not see major problems for major census programs (he expects full or nearly full ACS funding for FY2005), but cautioned that one cannot predict the outcome of the conference process.

David McMillen expressed greater caution, noting the Senate's commitment to Defense, Homeland Security, and other priorities. He also noted the high likelihood of continuing budget resolutions through the elections, and the uncertainty associated with omnibus funding, in which the political leadership starts "cutting deals." With a nod to his colleague, and perhaps a twinkle in his eye, David remarked that in previous years, Chip could get the attention of the Speaker, "but he's bailed out on us now."

There is an emerging dispute over where the prison population should be counted in the census-as some are arguing that current rules unjustly deprive urban communities of color their fair share of funding and representation. David noted that this will be the subject of an upcoming forum on the Hill, and expressed hope that COPAFS might play a role in this discussion-perhaps with a conference.

David said he was pleased with Chip's remark on MAF/TIGER enhancements, and commented that so far, Census efforts have been "all TIGER." He stressed that problems with the address list need to be tackled.

There followed a discussion of what would happen to the ACS if there is a continuing resolution (CR) for FY2005. In other words, what would the Census Bureau do if ACS funding was frozen (during the CR) at last year's $65 million level-well short of the $165 million required to continue fill implementation? Would they use all $65 million in the first few months, hoping for the rest in the final bill (it is doubted OMB would permit this)? Would the ACS sample be cut during the CR?

Chip interjected that he appreciated David's remarks about his influence with the Speaker, but argued that what really matters is "this leadership's commitment to the census." While acknowledging the uncertainty of the CR environment, Chip argued that "we've done this before," and cited the launching of the Census 2000 ad campaign during a CR. David responded that his point is for the need for contingency planning-that the Census Bureau needs to plan for such possible complications. Carol Van Horn, still at the meeting, commented that the Census Bureau is very aware of the problems that a CR would pose for the ACS, and is working out contingencies. Such efforts are internal for now, but she noted that they will work with Congress as the budget process progresses.

David noted other data issues on their scope-including the fact that the CPS is showing employment growth, while the establishment surveys show no growth. Alan Greenspan is said to suspect a problem with the CPS population weights, and David cited the Census Bureau's recent downward revision (by almost a half million) to its national population estimates. David also encouraged everyone to become more familiar with a new program called Longitudinal Employment Household Dynamics (LEHD). This program matches unemployment records from states to Social Security Administration records to provide local area unemployment data. Ed interjected that there will be a presentation on LEHD at the September 17 COPAFS meeting.

As part of a general discussion of funding prospects, Chip and David acknowledged the possibility that final FY2005 budgets would be passed in a lame duck session after the November elections. Asked about Census 2010 funding, Chip predicted it will not be clear sailing, but would be easier if the White House and Congress are controlled by the same party. Otherwise, we can expect disagreement over how to conduct the census, as the political forces for and against census adjustment are still there. David agreed, but stressed that that disagreement over adjustment continues because of continued errors in the census counts.

State of the United States-A Framework for National Key Indicators Kathy Wallman, Office of Management and Budget.

Ed Spar, COPAFS

Kathy started by observing that this was a rare instance in which she was presenting on a program that she is not in charge of. The program-The Key National Indicators Initiative-was described as a program to "measure and communicate how we are doing as a nation," and "to provide objective, accurate and accessible information to stimulate and inform fact-based dialogue, decision-making, and actions that affect the future of our citizens, communities and nation." The program's origins trace to GAO, but it is not a GAO program. The National Academy is the "incubator" of the activity for now, but eventually, it is expected to involve a broad-based public/private partnership.

Again, the broad objective is to measure how the nation is doing, and to provide information for many types of decision-makers. It is meant to be a very open and inclusive process, with many organizations involved. Broad topic categories include "The Economy," "The People," and "The Environment," and Kathy listed a number of subtopics within these broad areas. For example, "The People" might include information on health, shelter, education, safety, families civic engagement, and culture-each with its own subcategories.

The effort is currently spearheaded by a National Coordinating Committee (NCC), which has had three meetings to date-the first taking place in February 2003. Kathy mentioned that Ken Prewitt, Bob Groves, and others known to COPAFS are on the steering committee of the NCC. The committee has been working closely with leading national experts, is creating an interactive website, and is developing an outreach strategy to engage the public, government leaders, and the private sector. Recent and upcoming activities include a January 2004 Experts Meeting in Washington, a February 2004 NCC meeting in Boston, a possible Senate hearing in Spring 2004, Summer 2004 NCC meetings with cities and states, and an August 2004 panel at the Joint Statistical Meetings.

In response to a question about the provision of most of these indicators by agencies with programs that COPAFS is fighting to preserve, Kathy noted that the indicators program goes beyond economic or other data provided by statistical agencies to include things like "cultural indicators." The idea is that there are tons of indicators out there that have never been brought together in a coordinated effort. Kathy commented that it remains to be seen who would bring all these indicators together, and who would pay for it. Again, some kind of broad-based public/private partnership is foreseen, but details remain to be determined.

COPAFS attendees expressed confusion over the program, and concern with the idea that it might appear to give official blessing to some indicators over others. Kathy reminded us that she is not in charge of the program, and noted that the government has served primarily as a provider of data rather than a chooser of indicators. She also invited us to check out the program's website at www.keyindicators.org.

Concerns of COPAFS Constituencies

No concerns were raised, and the meeting was adjourned.

Attendees
  • Howard Leathers, AAEA
  • Robert McGuckin. AEA
  • Clyde Tucker, ASA
  • Judie Mopsik, Abt Associates
  • Patricia Becker, APDU/SEMCC
  • Samantha Friedman, American Sociological Assn.
  • Dick Kulka, RTI
  • Maurine Haver, NABE
  • Lindsay Clark, Brookings
  • Margaret Martin, Self
  • Ken Hodges, PAA/Claritas
  • Peggy Adams, IASSIST
  • Linda Jacobsen, APDU
  • Ed Goldfield, Census/CNSTAT
  • John Wertman, COSSA
  • Steve Landefeld, BEA
  • Dorothy Harshbarger, NAPHSIS
  • Dan Levine, WESTAT
  • John Czajka, ASA/Mathematica
  • Robert Parker, GAO
  • Christine Pierce, Nielsen Media Research
  • John Munyon, SeekData, Inc.
  • Pat Doyle, AAPOR
  • Lu Jeppesen, SeeData, Inc.
  • Seth Grimes, Alta Plana
  • Wilfred Tagud, IMCC
  • Cindy Vojtech, BEA
  • Kerry Sutten, BEA
  • Melissa Shea, Sabre Systems
  • Christa Jones, Census
  • Fred Cavanaugh, Sabre Systems
  • Grace Moe, Census
  • Paul Zelus, AUBER
  • Jennifer Williams, CRS
  • Lee Herring, American Sociological Assn.
  • Carolee Bush, CB&Associates
  • Nancy Potok, NORC
  • John Kavaliunas, Census
  • Ron Bosecker, NASS
  • Susan Schechter, OMB
  • Marilyn Seastrom, NCES
  • Miron Straf, The National Academies
  • Ralph Rector, The Heritage Foundation
  • Don Muff, Muff Consulting Service