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Aug 18 -- OMB invites comments by October 2, 2023 regarding a proposed rule on the Fundamental Responsibilities of Recognized Statistical Agencies and Units.

Public trust in Federal statistics is essential to their value and use in informing decisions across public and private sectors. To promote public trust in the statistical agencies and units that produce Federal statistics, the Office of Management and Budget proposes to issue regulations pursuant to Title III of the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act of 2018 (Evidence Act) that provide direction to statistical agencies and units. These proposed regulations also would provide direction to other Federal agencies to enable, support, and facilitate statistical agencies and units in carrying out four fundamental responsibilities: produce and disseminate relevant and timely statistical information, conduct credible and accurate statistical activities, conduct objective statistical activities, and ensure the confidentiality and exclusive statistical use of data collected for statistical purposes.
 
The Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act of 2018 (Evidence Act) became law on January 14, 2019. The Evidence Act seeks to “advance evidence-building functions in the Federal government by improving access to data and expanding evaluation capacity.” Part of advancing evidence-building functions is enhancing the foundation for generating high quality evidence, including improving the ability of Recognized Statistical Agencies and Units to produce relevant, credible, and objective statistical information. As such, Title III of the Evidence Act (also known as the Confidential Information Protection and Statistical Efficiency Act of 2018, CIPSEA 2018) updated and enhanced CIPSEA 2002 by, among other things, codifying the four fundamental responsibilities of Recognized Statistical Agencies and Units and requiring other Federal agencies to enable, support, and facilitate the Recognized Statistical Agencies and Units in upholding these responsibilities. These proposed regulations seek to provide direction to agencies in carrying out these responsibilities. The four fundamental responsibilities are:

(A) produce and disseminate relevant and timely statistical information;
(B) conduct credible and accurate statistical activities;
(C) conduct objective statistical activities; and
(D) protect the trust of information providers by ensuring the confidentiality and exclusive statistical use of their responses.

In codifying these responsibilities, the Congress recognized the value of maintaining and improving the relevance, accuracy, and objectivity of Federal statistical data as well as securing the protection of confidential information used in evidence-building. In codifying the fourth fundamental responsibility, the Evidence Act also reaffirmed the central tenet of CIPSEA 2002—that Recognized Statistical Agencies and Units must have the authority and capability to protect confidential statistical data and to assure information providers that any information provided to the Recognized Statistical Agency or Unit for statistical purposes under an obligation to maintain confidentiality will be kept strictly confidential and used exclusively for statistical purposes.

While the principles addressed in this proposed regulation are not new, and in fact have long been a consistent subject of OMB, Federal Government, and international policy for almost as long as governments have been charged with collecting and disseminating information about their societies, their actual implementation in the form of standards and practices can involve a wide range of managerial and technical challenges, especially as the Federal Statistical System evolves in the face of the unique modern data environment. These proposed regulations seek to provide some clarity in upholding these requirements on Recognized Statistical Agencies and Units and other Federal agencies. While these proposed regulations seek to learn from the long history of policies developed to support Federal statistics, they also seek to promote moving Federal statistics forward. It is important that Recognized Statistical Agencies and Units continue to move their methods, engagements, and collaborations forward productively, recognizing lessons learned across their vast history while embracing new ways of working. . . .
 
What follows are brief descriptions of the most relevant authorities, in order of relevance, to these proposed regulations for the fundamental responsibilities of Recognized Statistical Agencies and Units. These authorities generally support the ability of the Federal Statistical System to create relevant, credible, accurate, and objective statistics in a way that promotes the trust of data providers.

Evidence Act, CIPSEA 2002, and CIPSEA 2018. . . .
Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995 (PRA). . . .
Privacy Act of 1974 (Privacy Act). . . .
OMB Statistical Policy Directives. . . .

As a general matter, OMB has followed the approach of adhering to the wider principles and practices contained in Directive No. 1, which contained both the four fundamental principles now codified in the CIPSEA 2018 and gave Recognized Statistical Agencies and Units more specific guidance on how to adhere to those principles. Therefore, in many cases, most of the particular regulatory provisions described in more detail below are drawn directly or slightly adapted from provisions in Directive No. 1. Additional context can be found in the Federal Register Notice announcing OMB's adoption of Directive No. 1.

After nearly a decade of the Federal Government operating under Directive No. 1, experience has clarified the fundamental responsibilities and how to ensure Recognized Statistical Agencies and Units are able to carry out those responsibilities. In consideration of those experiences, the draft regulation seeks to address challenges, issues, or emerging challenges or issues to create a lasting and effective policy. While there is some overlap between this regulation and Directive No. 1, the intent of this regulation is to address additional ways outside of the current language in Directive No. 1, for example, ensuring Recognized Statistical Agencies and Units have their own websites and have an opportunity to present their own budget requests, to ensure that statistical agencies are able to meet their fundamental responsibilities.

OMB invites comments on any and all aspects of our proposed approach to this rule; in particular, whether it thoroughly and adequately meets our responsibilities under 44 U.S.C. 3563 to direct Recognized Statistical Agencies and Units in meeting their fundamental responsibilities, and agencies in enabling, supporting, and facilitating the Recognized Statistical Agencies and Units in meeting their fundamental responsibilities.

Additionally, OMB requests comments on the regulatory options proposed and described below, as well as these following questions:

(1) How can OMB best articulate the known and expected benefits of this regulatory action?

(2) Under 44 U.S.C. 3563, all agencies are required to enable, support, and facilitate Recognized Statistical Agencies and Units. However, agencies that are in the reporting structure of Recognized Statistical Agencies and Units will likely provide the majority of the support. Under the current proposed regulation, all agencies, components, and units are included under the definition of parent agency.

If OMB were to create a distinction between agencies, what should that distinction be? For example, should a distinction be considered for those in the reporting structure of the Recognized Statistical Agency or Unit? Should a distinction be considered for agencies which do not contain a Recognized Statistical Agency or Unit?

a. How should OMB draw this distinction?
b. For what support functions should each distinct group be responsible?
c. How should each distinct group best enable, support, and facilitate Recognized Statistical Agencies and Units?

(3) OMB seeks comment on how, as it relates to the implementation of the term “parent agency”, agencies' unique legal and regulatory responsibilities in relation to the Recognized Statistical Agency or Unit should be considered in this regulation.

(4) Under Proposed Section 1321.9 Compliance Review, OMB proposes three options for consideration as a means for providing accountability for both the Recognized Statistical Agencies and Units and the parent agencies in adhering to the proposed regulation. OMB is interested in whether those options would be adequate accountability measures for Recognized Statistical Agencies and Units or if others should be considered.

a. Does this regulation provide adequate accountability measures for Recognized Statistical Agencies and Units to ensure they are meeting their fundamental responsibilities? If additional accountability measures are needed, what would additional accountability measures look like?

b. Does this regulation provide adequate accountability measures for parent agencies to ensure they are enabling, supporting, and facilitating Recognized Statistical Agencies and Units in meeting their fundamental responsibilities? If additional accountability measures are needed, what would additional accountability measures look like? . . .

These proposed regulations promote trust in the work of Recognized Statistical Agencies and Units, which ultimately promotes trust in the data used by policymakers to inform their decisions. Any loss of trust in the accuracy, objectivity, or integrity of the Federal Statistical System and its statistical products has the potential to cause uncertainty about the validity of measures the Nation uses to monitor and assess its performance, progress, and needs, as well as undermine the public's confidence in the information released by the Government. In addition, these proposed regulations provide transparency and clarity to parent agencies and the public alike about how best a parent agency can enable, support, and facilitate the work of Recognized Statistical Agencies and Units.

The compliance review is a tool to ensure Recognized Statistical Agencies and Units and parent agencies are accountable to the provisions of this proposed regulation. This means that the compliance review enhances the benefits of the rest of the regulation. Each option offers a different approach, but the resulting benefits of each should be the same.

OMB seeks public comment on additional benefits of these proposed regulations. . . .
 
OMB Statistical Programs and Standards: https://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/information-regulatory-affairs/statistical-programs-standards/
FRN: https://www.federalregister.gov/d/2023-17664

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