Improving Government Statistics: Government Data Collections

AEACGR assists the AEA’s Committee on Economic Statistics (AEAStat) to “promote the involvement of economists in improving the collection, analysis and reporting of economic statistics.” Economists are also members of the advisory committees of Census, the Bureau of Economic Analysis and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The agendas and minutes of these advisory committee meetings are available at these websites.

AEAStat Data Needs Reports
AEAStat has just released the second report in a series of reports on data needs for economic research. This report tries to “provide a comprehensive description of data available for the study of international trade and foreign direct investment, as well as to identify areas where data collection could be improved.” It commissioned an earlier study of the needs for data improvement in public economics, more specifically tax-and-transfer issues, both from a research and public policy point of view. The two committees are publicizing the recommendations of these committees to Congress, the relevant statistical agencies, and others.

Current Data Collection Plans
The Association of Public Data Users (APDU) portal provides a listing maintained by APDU of opportunities for public comment on every federal data collection before it is implemented or renewed. Your comments on federal surveys can improve federal statistics and help ensure the renewal of data collections that are important for economic research.

Access to Administrative Data
The Sloan Foundation with help from the American Economic Association’s Committee on Government Relations is supporting a project by the Council of Professional Associations on Federal Statistics (COPAFS) to “expand social scientists’ access to administrative data for research in order to improve the bases for sound and informed public policy design and implementation. The focus is on economic research toward the improvement of evidence based public decision making.”  This project has so far developed an inventory of administrative data access processes, procedures and tools now employed by U.S. statistical and program agencies; conducted a survey of administrative data access priorities of a random sample of AEA members, and organized the following session at the 2015 ASSA annual meetings to present the results of the survey and discuss the use of administrative data.

Session:  The Use of Administrative Data in Economic Research: Rewards, Risk, and Demand
Session Organizer: Katherine R. Smith - Council of Professional Associations on Federal Statistics
Presiding: John Haltiwanger - University of Maryland
John Friedman - Harvard University "The Value of Public Administrative Data in Policy-Relevant Economic Research"
Amy Finkelstein – Massachusetts Institute of Technology "The Value of Administrative Data for Randomized Evaluations"
Ron Jarmin - U.S. Bureau of the Census "Confidentiality, Privacy Protection and Other Constraints on Stewards of Public Administrative Records"
Katherine R. Smith - Council of Professional Associations on Federal Statistics "Demand and Preferences for Access to Federal Administrative Data: Results of a Survey"

Data Sharing and Data Synchronization
AEACGR is tracking proposed changes in the IRS code that would permit Census, BLS and BEA to synchronize business registries.  These changes would improve the accuracy and consistency of important government statistics. 

Federal statistics depend on two business establishment lists, one maintained by Census and the other by BLS.  A study in 2006 found that 33 percent of the matched establishment firms on the two lists had been assigned different industry codes.  But Census and BLS cannot synchronize the two lists because the Census data are derived in part from business tax information and BLS is not allowed access to federal business tax data.  BEA is currently permitted to access only corporate tax data, but U.S. businesses are trending away from the corporate form.  As a result, BEA is doing more imputation of business incomes.  The consequence of these data access problems is a substantial and growing problem with the accuracy and consistency of important government statistics.  The Confidential Information Protection and Statistical Efficiency Act of 2002 (CIPSEA) authorized Census, BEA, and BLS to share business information for statistical purposes but did not make the necessary changes in the IRS code to permit sharing of data which is co-mingled with business tax data among the three agencies.  The solution is to amend the Internal Revenue Code, consistent with the intent of CIPSEA, to permit BEA limited access to federal tax data on proprietorships and partnerships; and to permit the Census Bureau to share limited tax data with BLS for the purpose of synchronizing business registries. For more information on data synchronization go to “Update on Statistics: Synchronizing Data Is Key to More Accurate Measures of Economy” by Maurine Haver of the National Association of Business Economists.

Updates on Federal Statistics
The Council of Professional Associations on Federal Statistics (COPAFS)  provides its members opportunities to review and have an impact on the timeliness, quality, confidentiality and the relevance of federal statistics through its meetings, seminars & conferences, and reports.

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