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July 16 -- This Notice announces the adoption of 2020 Standards for Delineating Core Based Statistical Areas by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The 2020 standards, which reflect modest revisions to the 2010 Standards for Delineating Metropolitan and Micropolitan Statistical Areas, supersede the 2010 standards. https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2021/07/16/2021-15159/2020-standards-for-delineating-core-based-statistical-areas
In 2018, OMB charged the Metropolitan and Micropolitan Statistical Area Standards Review Committee (Standards Review Committee) with examining the 2010 Standards for Delineating Metropolitan and Micropolitan Statistical Areas (available at: https://www.federalregister.gov/​documents/​2010/​06/​28/​2010-15605/​2010-standards-for-delineating-metropolitan-and-micropolitan-statistical-areas) and providing recommendations for how to improve the standards. The Standards Review Committee is a standing committee composed of subject matter experts at the agencies that rely on the statistical areas to produce official statistics. Agencies represented on the review committee include the U.S. Census Bureau (Chair), Bureau of Economic Analysis, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Bureau of Transportation Statistics, Economic Research Service, National Center for Health Statistics, Statistics of Income, and ex officio, OMB. The Census Bureau provided research support to the committee.  
OMB's decisions on each of the Review Committee's recommendations are discussed below. OMB did not make any substantive changes to the 2010 standards beyond the revisions discussed in this section.

Recommendation 1: Raise the minimum MSA core population threshold from 50,000 to 100,000.

OMB Decision: OMB does not accept the initial recommendation to raise the MSA core population threshold in the 2020 standards, and has decided to leave the current threshold of 50,000 in place. A change to the fundamental criteria that determine whether an area is considered metropolitan would cause disruption to statistical programs and products, and would be difficult for the statistical agencies to implement. OMB decided that there is insufficient justification at this time to raise the threshold to 100,000 and that further research is necessary before deciding whether to change the criteria that determine whether an area is considered metropolitan. Finally, we also note the Standard Review Committee's subsequent modification of their initial recommendation recognizing the value of additional research before modifying the threshold.

We acknowledge the Standards Review Committee's concern that the MSA thresholds have not kept pace with population growth, which affects the ability of the CBSA program to meet its intended purpose of identifying the primary centers of population and economic activity in the United States for use in official statistics. OMB commits to working with the Standards Review Committee to conduct research and stakeholder outreach over the next four years to closely examine the utility of the current requirements for an area to qualify as an MSA, and for outlying counties to join an MSA (See Recommendation 6). This research will be guided by the MSA program's primary goal of identifying the major centers of population and economic activity of the United States, and will include exploring different frameworks and data sources for classifying metropolitan areas, including alternate core population thresholds, features and amenities of areas, evolving U.S. central place hierarchies, potential economic thresholds, and other topics identified by the Standards Review Committee or outside experts. The Standards Review Committee will advise OMB on the impact of any potential revisions on the statistical products released by their agencies.

Recommendation 2: Discontinue Updates to the NECTAs, NECTA Divisions, and Combined NECTAs.

OMB Decision: OMB accepts this recommendation, and the conclusion of the Committee that the significant complexity generated by maintaining these areas is not justified by their use in Federal statistical products and programs.

We recognize that NECTAs are more granular than county-based CBSAs, and more closely reflect the functional local government structure in New England. However, Federal statistical programs often do not release two sets of data for both NECTAs and MSAs in the New England states, because doing so would create unacceptable risk of disclosure or reidentification. As a result, several statistical programs currently release data by NECTAs in New England and by county-based CBSAs for the rest of the country. This practice is contrary to the intent of the standards to provide a nationally consistent geographic framework. After consulting with the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which is the primary user of these areas, OMB is confident that BLS programs can continue to release high quality and useful statistics across the country. This decision will not affect the release of BLS products at finer geographic scales, such as the release of Local Area Unemployment Statistics data by minor civil division.

Recommendation 3: Launch a research effort into delineating territorially exhaustive areas.

OMB Decision: OMB accepts this recommendation. The CBSA program currently does not delineate a large portion of U.S. territory. A territorially exhaustive delineation would increase the utility of the CBSA program and improve coordination of Federal statistics. OMB commits to working with the Review Committee on the plans for the research necessary to provide a robust, exhaustive delineation of the United States and Puerto Rico.

Recommendation 4: Incorporate the results of the decade's first annual update review into the results of the decade's decennial census-based update.

OMB Decision: OMB accepts this recommendation. As background, on an annual basis and according to the standards, OMB makes small changes, generally to just a few MSAs, based on annual updates to the Census population data used to determine a county's CBSA status. In the past a small number of counties experienced change in delineation status between the comprehensive, decennial delineations issued in the third year after the Decennial Census and in the subsequent annual update that follows, due in part to the different geographic units used in the decennial update and annual updates. The Committee believes this has led to unnecessary uncertainty and instability in the program. Implementing this recommendation will improve the consistency of the areas with negligible impact on timing or resources.

Recommendation 5: Establish a Publicly Available Update Schedule.

OMB Decision: OMB accepts this recommendation. To increase transparency and consistency, we have provide a high level, preliminary schedule below, and will publish and maintain a schedule of upcoming CBSA delineations and updates on our Statistical Policies and Programs web page (https://www.whitehouse.gov/​omb/​information-regulatory-affairs/​statistical-programs-standards/​). Because the timing of OMB updates depends in part on the timing of delivery of the inputs by the Census Bureau, we also intend to include the input dates into this schedule. If OMB is unable to meet the public update schedule, we will notify the public as soon as feasible through the web page.

As described in the final 2020 standards in Section E, OMB will release three different types of updates. (1) Annual Updates—These updates would address qualification of new metropolitan and micropolitan statistical areas and typically would affect a small number of counties. (In some years, there may be no updates warranted by the data.) (2) Five-Year (“mid-decade”) Update—This broader update would include: Qualification of metropolitan and micropolitan statistical areas, qualification of outlying counties, merging of adjacent metropolitan or micropolitan statistical areas, qualification of principal cities, categorization of metropolitan and micropolitan statistical areas, qualification of metropolitan divisions, qualification of combined statistical areas, and titling of metropolitan and micropolitan statistical areas, metropolitan divisions, and combined statistical areas. (3) Decennial Delineation—The initial re-delineation following adoption of revised standards would include all of the changes listed for the five-year update, plus the qualification of central counties.

Update type    Release date
Decennial Delineation    June 2023.
Annual Update    December 2024.
Annual Update    December 2025.
Annual Update    December 2026.
Annual Update    December 2027.
Five-Year Update    December 2028.
Annual Update    December 2029
Recommendation 6: Continue use of American Community Survey commuting data to measure intercounty connectivity.

OMB Decision: OMB accepts this recommendation for the 2020 standards. We note that changes in commuting behavior as a result of the pandemic could result in a reduction in the five-year average ACS estimates of commuting which will contribute to the planned CBSA update in 2028. This anticipated reduction could result, if no other adjustments are made, in a large number of outlying counties getting dropped from their CBSAs, at least until the next time commuting data is updated in 2033.

OMB recognizes that the pandemic's impact on commuting patterns may create an acute challenge for the 2028 mid-decade update, as well as a longer-term challenge for the continued use of ACS commuting data as the sole measure of intercounty connectivity and economic integration. We especially recognize the importance of additional research in this area in light of the changing nature of work patterns, which the pandemic may have accelerated, and other ways in which geography and economic activity interact.

To that end, OMB will reconvene the Standards Review Committee to conduct a full review of intercounty connectivity measures before 2028, and to advise OMB on whether pandemic-related changes in commuting patterns warrant any adjustments to the standards prior to the mid-decade update in 2028 to minimize the risk of unintended and potentially temporary pandemic-related changes to the CBSAs in 2028. In addition, we expect that the scope of this research will also encompass whether other measures of economic activity may be useful in the identification of CBSAs, and position OMB to ensure that the standards for including outlying counties in CBSAs are robust and meaningful.

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