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Census.gov Information Quality Main Census Bureau Information Quality Guidelines

Census Bureau Information Quality Guidelines

The U.S. Census Bureau is the largest statistical agency of the Federal Government. While best known for the decennial census of population and housing, it conducts other surveys and censuses that measure changing individual and household demographics and the economic condition of the Nation. The Census Bureau is responsible for quinquennial censuses of manufactures, retail trade, wholesale trade, service industries, finance, insurance, real estate, transportation, communication, utilities, mining, and governments. The Census Bureau also conducts approximately 200 surveys per year. It is the source of household demographic surveys sponsored by other Federal agencies, as well as by the Census Bureau. It is also the source of the country's official population estimates and projections that are used as the basis for allocating federal funds each year. Monthly, quarterly, and annual establishment surveys are funded by Congressional appropriation to yield information on the current state of the economy. Census Bureau economic surveys provide a majority of the information the Bureau of Economic Analysis uses to update Gross Domestic Product estimates, the data used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in reporting Producer Price changes, and the data used by the Federal Reserve Board as input to indices of industrial production and capacity utilization.


Census Bureau programs support Department of Commerce Strategic Planning Goal 1: Provide the Information and the Framework to Enable the Economy to Operate Efficiently and Equitably, Objective 1.3: Support Effective Decision-Making of Policymakers, Businesses, and the American Public.


High quality publicly available statistics from Federal statistical organizations are essential for a nation to advance the economic well-being and quality of life of its people. The statistical information products provided by the Census Bureau are influential, shaping important policy decisions that help improve our Nation's social and economic conditions.

  • Census Bureau data are used to distribute hundreds of billions of dollars in federal funding.
  • Census Bureau data are essential for estimating the gross domestic product (GDP) and leading economic indicators.
  • Census Bureau data determine the apportionment of Congressional seats, as mandated in the Constitution.
  • Census Bureau data inform us about education, income, poverty, and health insurance coverage. National, state, and local governments use Census Bureau data to formulate policy.
  • Large corporations and local businesses use Census Bureau data to devise their business plans.

The Census Bureau is one of 10 principal statistical agencies in the Federal government. A statistical agency, as defined in the Federal Register January 29, 1996 (Volume 61, Number 20, pages 2875-2879), is an agency or organizational unit of the Executive Branch whose activities are predominantly the collection, compilation, processing or analysis of information for statistical purposes. Statistical agencies have long been leaders in the development and implementation of quality guidelines for information products.


The Office of Management and Budget (OMB), in its February 22, 2002 issuance of government-wide information quality guidelines, recognizes that Federal statistical organizations provide a substantial variety of data. Accordingly, while the Census Bureau is part of a joint Federal statistical agency notice on information quality guidelines [PDF - 63K], it presents its specific response to the OMB directive on quality, including utility, objectivity, and integrity. The Census Bureau considers its published statistical information to be "influential," and does not distinguish among the many data it releases annually those which are more or less influential. The original and supporting data it collects and develops to generate its statistical information products are covered by the same quality guidelines as the information it disseminates, and are proprietary and confidential. The Census Bureau will demonstrate in its Paperwork Reduction Act clearance packages that each such draft information collection will result in information that will be collected, maintained, and used in a way consistent with all applicable information quality guidelines. Analyses it conducts that become part of Census Bureau statistical information products are covered by the same quality guidelines. There is a process in place for adding disclaimers to work produced under grants and awards, and papers written and speeches given by Census Bureau employees, which do not fall under section 515 information quality guidelines as long as the documents are not disseminated by the Census Bureau. These information quality guidelines do not apply to press releases, fact sheets, press conferences or similar communications in any medium that announce, support the announcement or give public notice of information the Census Bureau has disseminated elsewhere. These guidelines do not cover archival information disseminated by the Census Bureau before October 1, 2002, and still maintained by the Census Bureau as archival material. Nor do these guidelines cover information limited to adjudicative processes, such as pleadings, including information developed during the conduct of any criminal or civil action or administrative enforcement action, investigation or audit against specific parties, or information distributed in documents limited to administrative action determining the rights and liabilities of specific parties under applicable statutes and regulations. Third-party information, such as from states and local governments, may be included in information that the Census Bureau disseminates. Although third-party sources may not be directly subject to Section 515, information from such sources, when used by the Census Bureau to develop information products, must be of known quality and consistent with the Census Bureau's information quality guidelines. When such information is used, any limitations, assumptions, collection methods, or uncertainties concerning it are taken into account and disclosed.


These guidelines cover information disseminated by the Census Bureau on or after October 1, 2002, regardless as to when the information was first disseminated. However, the pre-dissemination review procedures incorporated in the guidelines shall be applied only to information first disseminated by the Census Bureau on or after October 1, 2002. Disseminated information covered by these guidelines shall comply with all applicable DOC and OMB Information Quality Guidelines.


In implementing these guidelines, the Census Bureau acknowledges that ensuring the quality of information is an important management objective that takes its place alongside other Census Bureau objectives, such as ensuring the success of Census Bureau missions, observing budget and resource priorities and restraints, and providing useful information to the public. The Census Bureau intends to implement these guidelines in a way that will achieve all these objectives in a harmonious way.

These guidelines use the definitions for "quality," "utility," "objectivity," "integrity," "information," "government information," "dissemination," "influential," and "reproducibility" found in the OMB Final Guidelines published in the Federal Register, Vol. 67, No. 36, February 22, 2002. These guidelines may be revised periodically, based on experience, evolving requirements at the Census Bureau, and concerns expressed by the public.


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Source: U.S. Census Bureau | Methodology and Standards Council |  Last Revised: July 08, 2010