House passes bill to establish statistical data centers

House passes bill to establish statistical data centers

By Shruti Date'
GCN Staff

By unanimous voice vote, the House of Representatives late last month passed a bill that would designate eight federal agencies as statistical data centers.

The centers would work to eliminate duplication and to make collection and analysis of statistical data more efficient.

The eight agencies are the Commerce Department's Bureau of Economic Analysis and Bureau of the Census; the Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics; the Agriculture Department's National Agriculture Statistics Service; the Education Department's National Center for Education Statistics; the Health and Human Services Department's National Center for Health Statistics; and the Energy Department's End Use and Integrated Statistics Division of the Energy Information Administration.

The bill would correct the fragmented structure of information management and improve quality through data sharing, said Rep. Steve Horn (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Government Reform Subcommittee on Government Management, Information and Technology, and sponsor of HR 2885, the Statistical Efficiency Act of 1999. The subcommittee passed the bill in late September.

'The driving forces are to reduce the burden of reporting on the public, improve data analysis by sharing the information, and long-term budgetary savings,'' said an administration official who has pushed for the initiative since 1993.

The official, who requested anonymity, said the initiative has been ongoing since the 1970s but recently gained ground in the push to do more with less in the federal government.

Agencies were chosen on the basis of previous statistical work, and they would be able to work together if the legislation is approved by the Senate and signed by the president, the official said. The bill would override current confidentiality regulations that prevent them from sharing information.

J. Steven Landefeld, director of the Bureau of Economic Analysis, said: 'We are forbidden by law to look into each others' databases. Data sharing will be a major boon to statistical agencies, providing efficiency, quality and accuracy while maintaining a decentralization.''

The administration official said: 'The example that comes to mind involves the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Census Bureau, which both maintain establishment lists of firms. They had to establish two separate lists for even statistical purposes because of confidentiality laws.

'But BLS and the Census staff may be able to work together toward a single list, which means they don't have to bother businesses twice for the same information. Down the road they can work on one list.''

Ground rules

The statistical data centers could exchange information one to one or with multiple partners among the eight. But no central location will be established; it will be a decentralized process with regulations, the official said.

Information exchanged among the agencies would have to be used for statistical purposes only.

The bill also mandates that statistical activities include collecting, compiling, processing or analyzing data to make estimates on all or relevant components within the economy, society or the environment. The information cannot identify individuals.

The statistical data centers would have to participate in data sharing activities that significantly improved federal statistical programs or products, and also would have to protect individual confidentiality of shared data. The centers would also be expected to identify opportunities to eliminate duplication and enter into joint projects to improve the quality and reduce the costs of statistical programs.

A member of Horn's staff said the Senate is likely to adopt the House version of the bill, but Sen. Daniel Moynihan (D-N.Y.) in January introduced S 205, the Federal Commission on Statistical Policy Act of 1999. It is awaiting review by the Senate Government Affairs Committee.

The Senate bill asks for establishment of a 16-member commission to 'study and submit to Congress and the president a written report and draft legislation as necessary and appropriate on the federal statistical system.''

The commission would review information technology and suggest methods for disseminating statistical data, with emphasis on resources such as the Internet.

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