Minutes of the COPAFS Quarterly Meeting

September 20, 2002

COPAFS chair Maurine Haver opened the meeting, and called on Ed Spar for the executive director's report. For those who had not heard, Ed reported the tragic death of Chip Alexander. Ed described Chip as "the brains of the ACS," and commented that that was the least of his widely admired qualities.

Turning to happier news, Ed reported two recent Census Bureau appointments-Hermann Habermann (formerly of the U.N. and OMB) as new deputy director, and Arnold Jackson (once head of IT at the Bureau) who is coming out of retirement to serve as Jay Waite's assistant director. Also good news is that, with the exception of NCES, the openings for statistical agency heads have been filled. As Ed put it, we're almost back to full strength.

For the bad news, Ed suggested we just look at the budgets, where the agencies are at best holding their own. The Senate mark gives a 4.1 percent "salary increase" to the Census Bureau, and the House mark is expected to be even worse. So the writing is on the wall-there will be no full implementation of the ACS in 2003. BLS has been recommended for full funding, but BEA is marked for the same 4.1 percent as the Census Bureau-a mark Ed described as "cynical" given that they are still expected to deliver GDP improvements. And Ed attributed the $5 million cut for NCHS to the fact that they are not involved in measuring bio-terrorism.

Ed then noted that the new metropolitan areas (or Core Based Statistical Areas) are to be announced next year, and that OMB has notified the congressional delegations of those areas that have the option for combining. Ed finished by announcing Dan Weinberg's selection for the Roger Herriott Award, and the establishment of the Jeanne Griffith Mentoring Award. COPAFS meeting dates for next year are March 14, June 13, September 19, and December 12.

Ed then turned to Maurine Haver for a description of bill H.R. 5215-the Confidential Information Protection and Statistical Efficiency Act of 2002. The bill is co-sponsored by Tom Sawyer and Carolyn Maloney,and provides for the sharing of business data among the Census Bureau, BEA and BLS. Maurine is among those who have testified in support of the bill, and commented that it would result in higher data quality. On the confidentiality side, data can only be used for statistical purposes. And while the sharing provision relates to business data only, confidentiality was said to relate to all data collected for statistical purposes by federal agencies-thus raising the protection of many data sources to the level of the census. Significantly, these protections would supersede the Patriot Act, ensuring, for example, that NCES data (where confidentiality has been in doubt) would remain confidential. The bill is expected to pass the House, but there is work to be done in the Senate, where support from Senators Lieberman and Thompson is said to be important.

An Update of Initiatives at the Statistics of Income Division, IRS

Thomas Petska.Statistics of Income Division, IRS

Tom started with background on IRS and the Statistics of Income (SOI) division, which, he explained, is technically an administrative rather than a statistical agency, in that it conducts no surveys, and gets all of its data from administrative records. SOI's mission is to design and conduct statistical studies, examine findings, and disseminate results. Their major users, or "customers," include Treasury, the Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation, BEA, Census Bureau, IRS other government agencies, researchers and the public. Uses of the data include revenue estimation, policy analysis, and of course the Census Bureau's population estimates. Tom commented that use of SOI data by IRS is quite new, and that SOI is something of an enclave in its own organization. SOI "piggybacks" on the IRS compliance operation-an arrangement which Tom said has definite pros and cons.

Next, Tom described the process through which IRS returns are received, processed, and edited to provide the data for SOI products. These products are based on a sample drawn from the IRS masterfile. Tom explained that the IRS masterfile contains limited content from all returns, and that SOI uses a sample of masterfile records, but with more extensive data content. The data-described as microdata with weights to national level-are all pre-audit, and Tom assured us that being in the sample does not increase one's chances of being audited. Out of 133 million returns, the SOI sample includes about 225,000, with high income returns sampled at a higher rate-up to 100 percent for returns of $10 million or more.

Among the challenges faced by SOI is their status as a "distant and second" priority at IRS, with primary customers in other agencies. They are also constrained by the limits of the tax form as a data collection instrument, and compilation is complicated by factors including the decentralized structure of IRS, the complexity of the tax code, filing extensions, and tax avoidance/evasion. Tom also noted that raw data from returns contain many errors, and require extensive editing efforts. Keeping up with IRS technological changes presents another set of challenges.

Objectives for the future include the development of data editing systems that are less "people-intensive," expanded use of masterfile data, protecting the confidentiality of IRS records, and the development of new means for data access. SOI products are currently disseminated directly to customers, and are available on their web site-which Tom suggested has room for improvement. The overall goal is to get more data more quickly to more customers in more media.

Recent Results from the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse

Joe Gfroerer. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

Rather than a description of his agency's functions, Joe's presentation was a review of results from his agency's 2001 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse (NHSDA). The survey has been annual since 1990, but a 1999 re-design has enabled the presentation of state data. Respondents are drawn from the civilian non-institutional population age 12 and above, and data are collected through face-to-face interviews. The 2001 sample was 68,929.

The NHSDA measures patterns of illicit drug use-identifying, for example, that there were 15.9 million "users" in 2001. Most were using marijuana, with rates varying widely by age, and being greater for males than for females. Rates for pregnant women also are identified, and reveal a distinct drop by trimester. Rates by race and ethnicity reveal relatively high rates for American Indian and Hispanic populations, and relatively low rates for Asians. Use tends to be somewhat higher in large metropolitan areas, but there is ample use in rural areas.

Trends show modest but widespread increases in use rates for 2001 (over 1999 and 2000), and Joe commented that they are not sure why. The biggest increase is in the age 18-25 range, with growth in older ages described as in part a cohort effect-as aging baby boomers bring their relatively high rates to older age categories. The survey also identified that increasing use rates are accompanied by decreasing perceptions of risk. Joe then presented results related to alcohol and tobacco (showing maps of state data), as well as annual numbers of new users of marijuana over the 1965-2000 period. He also described some of the mental health data provided by the survey.

Changes to the survey include a new quality control process, and incentive payments of $30 per respondent. These payments seem to help response rates, but there is concern that they could affect the data. The survey also has a new name. The NHSDA is now the National Survey on Drug Use and Health-the priorities being to drop the word "abuse" and include the word "health."

Data from the survey are on the web site, and in a two volume book, which Joe will provide to Ed, and which Ed will distribute to COPAFS representatives.

An Update from Capitol Hill

Chip Walker, Committee on Government Reform and Oversight

David McMillen, Committee on Government Reform and Oversight

TerriAnn Lowenthal, Consultant

Chip Walker commented that uncertainty over the census appropriation is typical this time of year, but that this year is worse than ever. He noted that the Senate mark was not favorable, and we are still waiting for the House mark. On behalf of chairman Weldon, Chip said they have sent a letter to the appropriators describing priorities for Census. These include the ACS, the economic census, MAF/TIGER, and the new Census Bureau building. They are asking for ACS funding equivalent to last year, and for a test of the impact of voluntary ACS response. Chip emphasized that voluntary ACS response is a big issue for "Dr. Weldon," and noted that the Census Bureau has estimated that it would involve about a 6 percent drop in mail response, and a cost increase of $25 to $30 million. The expectation is that funding at last year's level would enable the Census Bureau to maintain the 31 test sites, and add a test of voluntary response (probably with response voluntary in some sites and mandatory in others). However, in private conversation, Ken Bryson of the Census Bureau expressed doubt that such funding would be adequate, as the voluntary response test would be more involved than many realize-requiring new questionnaires, etc.

Sensitive to data users' frustrations with the Senate mark, Chip explained that the ACS would not have received full funding for 2003 even if Weldon had been "full speed ahead" on it. As Chip put it, "the money just is not there," and the ACS is not a high national priority. He remarked that next year is the year when Congress will say whether we are going back to the long form, or going ahead with the ACS. Chip also commented that "there will be a CR" (continuing resolution) on the Commerce State and Judiciary budget (of which Census is part), and with elections in November, it is unclear who would be in charge during the likely lame-duck session.

David McMillen began by thanking Chip for the job he has done in getting ACS what funding it has received in recent years-noting that it has been up against formidable priorities. David then expressed doubt about the confidence Chip expressed in full funding for the economic census-suggesting that all we really have is congressional "intent to fully fund." Turning to the ACS, David suggested that there are indications that now might be a good time to review long form/ACS content. Citing concerns over SF3 and C2SS data, David said the delayed national implementation might give us an opportunity to rethink what information needs to be collected, and how best to collect it. And when David touted ACS flexibility with respect to changing priorities, Chip interjected that the ACS would have even greater flexibility for changing content if response to it is voluntary. Touching briefly on the data sharing and confidentiality bill, David said they are trying hard to pass it, but that there are few legislative vehicles to which it can be attached, as more resolutions are going through Congress lately than legislation.

Speaking from the perspective of external stakeholders, TerriAnn Lowenthal noted that many stakeholders are sill focused on lingering Census 2000 issues (such as adjustment), but that some are focused on ACS. She described some of the support activities of the Census 2000 Initiative, but commented that there have not been many external voices speaking up for the ACS lately. And when support is expressed, the challenge is to keep those voices speaking as one. In particular, she noted that some of those focused on specific small populations are still skeptical of the quality of the data the ACS would provide for these groups.

Following through on David's "opportunity" theme, TerriAnn noted that the delay in full ACS implementation could give us the chance to look more closely at ACS/census differences. She then noted that, in contrast to the census, there is no clearly established content determination process for the ACS. She also commented on the extent to which Census Bureau has deferred to Congress on ACS content, and argued that the Census Bureau should take a more active role.

TerriAnn finished by reminding us how congressional concern over Census 2000 costs evaporated as the focus shifted to methods and adjustment, and suggested that census costs could be a more enduring issue in 2010 census planning. The observation prompted Chip to add that Congress has never authorized the ACS. And while the Census Bureau has provided legal opinion confirming that they do not need congressional authority to conduct the ACS, he stressed that Congress does not have to pay for it. Even at the risk of a negative outcome, Chip recommends a vote on ACS authorization-so we would at least know where we stand. There followed some discussion of the mid-decade census, which Congress authorized, but still did not pay for. In response to a question about claims that the ACS would be cost-neutral or a cost savings (relative to a census long form), Chip said they have advised the Census Bureau to argue the ACS on its own merits. As Chip described it, if the Bureau makes the cost argument, and the figures don't work out that way, the whole case is blown.

Urban and Rural Definitions for Census 2000 and Beyond

Michael Ratcliffe. U.S. Census Bureau

Mike explained that urbanized area (UA) definitions are remaining similar to those applied after 1990, but that the creation of the smaller urban clusters is a major new development. Urban clusters (which serve as the cores of the new micropolitan statistical areas) are defined with criteria similar to those used for urbanized areas, but do not require populations of 50,000 or more (10,000 to 49,999 will do). Urban clusters therefore replace some of the urban places of 2,500 or more population from the 1990 definitions. As Mike described, it as suburbanization increased, the 50,000 population requirement became a problem, as fringe areas with urban density were being classified as rural because the cities around which they were growing had not grown enough for the area to attain UA status. The new definitions are not as constrained by place boundaries, and places can now be part urban and part rural.

Mike described how urbanized areas were once defined by hand using paper maps, and after 1990 were prepared with in-house GIS software. There was always an element of judgment or subjectivity in applying the criteria, and debate over what constitutes "jumps" or "hops"-the inclusion of low density area to eliminate enclaves. A goal for 2000 was to establish a more automated and objective process for delineating urban areas. For 2000, the conditions for identifying jumps and hops have been revised, and areas are defined by block group rather than blocks-with the exception of block groups with land area in excess of 2.5 square miles, (usually in fringe areas) where blocks are still used. The use of block groups better insures the inclusion of central business districts that have low residential population density. Even with automation, the delineation of urbanized areas (and now urban clusters) remains a massive undertaking, and Mike commented that the process took 40 computers two months to complete.

Mike noted that UA and urban cluster definitions are still independent of metropolitan area definitions but that UAs and urban clusters now serve as the cores of the new Core Based Statistical Areas (CBSAs)-such that as of 2003, all UAs will be part of a metropolitan area.

At Ed's request, Mike also addressed the forthcoming CBSA definitions-where the designation of "combined statistical areas" (after considerable debate, that is the formal term) is a significant new feature. Combined statistical areas will consist of metropolitan and micropolitan statistical areas combined on the basis of commuting ties or interchange. An interchange in excess of 25 percent automatically creates a combined statistical area, while exchanges greater than 15 percent but less than 25 percent provide the option for combination-based on local opinion. For example, the future Washington and Baltimore metropolitan statistical areas do not have enough interchange for an automatic combination, but they have enough to give them the option, so local opinion is being sought. The period for comment is open until October 30, and Mike indicated that the new CBSAs will be announced by June 2003-or earlier if the designations are completed before then.

Concerns of COPAFS Constituencies

No concerns were raised, but Ed suggested that we all give thought to the problem of data archiving, and what we would want to hear from the federal agencies on this topic.

  • Billl O'Hare Casey Foundation
  • Brian Harris-Kogetin OMB
  • Carolee Bush AAPOR
  • Dan Estersohn Arbitron, Inc.
  • Don Muff Muff Consulting Svcs.
  • Dorothy Harshbarger NAPHSIS
  • Ed Godfield CNSTAT, Census
  • Ed Spar Copafs
  • Elisha Smith JPSM (OMB)
  • Gerald Froufe Am. Educ Research Association
  • Gooloo S. Wunderlich Institute of Medicine
  • Hanyn Ni Ed Sondic (NCHS)
  • Heather McAdoo NCHS/CDC
  • Jane Smith FenestraTech
  • Jennifer Williams Congressional Research Service
  • Joe Garrett Mathematica
  • Joe Gfroerer SAMMSA
  • John Cromartie AAG
  • John Knapp AUBER
  • John Thompson NORC
  • Judy Mopsik Abt Associates
  • Kelvin Pollard PRB
  • Ken Bryson ACS Census Bureau
  • Ken Hodges PAA
  • Kent Hargesheimer SRC
  • Kerry Sutter Bureau of Economic Analysis
  • Linda Jacobsen Claritas
  • Lois Arr Bureau of Labor Statistics
  • Margaret Martin COPAFS
  • Maurine Haver NABE
  • Michael L. Cohen ASA
  • Michael Ratcliff Census Bureau
  • Pat Doyle ASA
  • Sally T. Hillsman American Sociological Association
  • Sarah Zapolsky AARP
  • Stephen Tordella Decision Demographics
  • Susan Scheehter OMB
  • Vincent Lannacchione RTI International
  • William Kandel RSS