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The Census Bureau's Director writes on how we measure America's people, places and economy.
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In adopting Information Quality performance standards for objectivity, the Census Bureau will continue its long-standing practice of making our statistical information as transparent as possible. Census Bureau quality guidelines require that our statistical products be accompanied by descriptions of or references to descriptions of the methods and procedures used in their development and other information about the data that may affect its use. The Census Bureau provides indicators of the quality of the statistical information it disseminates to the public, along with definitions and descriptions of the concepts and methods. The information on methodology provided or referenced permits the user to determine whether the data adequately approximate what they wish to measure, and whether the estimates they wish to use were produced with tolerances acceptable for their intended purpose. While the Census Bureau utilizes internal peer review to ensure quality in content and subject matter as well as in the application of statistical methodology, and external peer review in content development for many of our programs, and for the review of results in our most highly critical activities, it fully meets OMB section 515 [PDF - 161k] requirements of objectivity in analytic results by ensuring disclosure of the specific quantitative methods and assumptions that have been employed, and the disclosure of error sources affecting data quality.
Statistical information products disseminated to the public by the Census Bureau must be reproducible following prescribed methodology. Reproducibility means that there is the capability to use the documented methods on the same data set to achieve a consistent result. Documentation provided by the Census Bureau must allow results to be repeated. However, data released by the Census Bureau generally will not be directly reproducible by the public because the underlying data sets used to produce them are confidential. In such cases, our documented methods can be reviewed by users in lieu of an actual recreation of the results. In addition, some results may not be easily reproduced by third parties due to the complexity and detail of the methods and data. In these cases, greater emphasis is placed on periodic review by outside panels of technical experts, and we apply especially rigorous robustness checks.
Some statistical information is not available to the public because of its sensitive and proprietary nature, or because it is unfit for use. For example, while the original and supporting data the Census Bureau collects and develops to generate its statistical information products are covered by the same quality guidelines and statistical standards as the information it disseminates, the original and supporting data are proprietary and confidential and not subject to reproducibility requirements. Additionally, if a potential data product is determined by the Census Bureau as unfit for use because it does not meet Census Bureau requirements for quality, the Census Bureau reserves the right to withhold the data product from dissemination to the public. Whether statistical information products are fit for use depends on the intended uses and on their fundamental characteristics of quality as defined in the Census Bureau's quality principles and quality standards, as well as on the expectations of users for what is acceptable for these characteristics of quality. The range of quality characteristics underlying fitness for use includes relevance, accuracy, timeliness, interpretability, and coherence.
Finally, we also achieve transparency through the wide dissemination of our information. Many reports and other data products are available both as printed and electronic documents. They are announced on the Census Bureau web site and most electronic versions can be accessed and downloaded directly from the site. The Census Bureau is committed to making every document on its internet server accessible to all. Currently, we are reviewing our site and making modifications to those pages which are not in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.