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Statistical Quality Standard A1: Planning a Data Program

Purpose: The purpose of this standard is to ensure that plans are developed when initiating a new or revised data program.

Scope: The Census Bureau’s statistical quality standards apply to all information products released by the Census Bureau and the activities that generate those products, including products released to the public, sponsors, joint partners, or other customers. All Census Bureau employees and Special Sworn Status individuals must comply with these standards; this includes contractors and other individuals that receive Census Bureau funding to develop and release Census Bureau information products.

In particular, this standard applies to planning data programs (e.g., surveys, censuses, and administrative records programs) that will release information products to the public, to sponsors, or to other customers.

Exclusions: The global exclusions to the standards are listed in the Preface. No additional exclusions apply to this standard.

Note: Specific planning requirements for each stage of the data program are addressed in other statistical quality standards. For example, Statistical Quality Standard E1Analyzing Data, includes requirements for planning data analyses.

Requirement A1-1: The provisions of federal laws (e.g., Title 13, Title 15, and Title 26) and Census Bureau policies and procedures on privacy and confidentiality (e.g., Data Stewardship Policies) must be followed in planning and designing any programs that will collect personally identifiable information or business identifiable information. (See Statistical Quality Standard S1Protecting Confidentiality.)

Requirement A1-2: An overall program plan must be developed that includes the following:

  1. A justification for the program, including:
    1. A description of the program goals.
    2. A description of stakeholder requirements and expectations.
    3. A description of the intended information products (e.g., tabulations, confidential microdata, or public-use files).
    4. A description of revisions to an ongoing program, including:
      1. Changes to key estimates, methods, or procedures.
      2. The usefulness of the revisions for conducting analyses and for informing policymakers and stakeholders.
      3. Planned studies to measure the effects of the changes to key estimates and time series (e.g., overlap samples or bridge studies).
    5. For sample survey and census programs (i.e., programs that do not rely solely on administrative records), a description of the steps taken to prevent unnecessary duplication with other sources of information, including a list of related (current and past) federal and non-federal studies, surveys, and reports that were reviewed.


    1. The Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB) Guidance on Agency Survey and Statistical Information Collections provides information on preparing OMB clearance packages for surveys used for general purpose statistics or as part of program evaluations or research studies.
    2. The OMB’s Standards for Maintaining, Collecting, and Presenting Federal Data on Race and Ethnicity provides standards for programs collecting data on race and ethnicity.
    3. The OMB’s Standards for Defining Metropolitan and Micropolitan Statistical Areas provides standards for collecting, tabulating, and publishing statistics for geographic areas.
  2. An initial schedule that identifies key milestones for the complete program cycle from planning to data release.

    Generally, the program cycle includes the following stages:
    1. Planning a data program (Statistical Quality Standard A1).
    2. Developing the data collection instrument and sample design (Statistical Quality Standards A2 and A3).
    3. Establishing and implementing data collection methods and acquiring administrative records (Statistical Quality Standards B1 and B2).
    4. Capturing and processing data (Statistical Quality Standards C1, C2, C3, and C4).
    5. Producing estimates and quality measures (Statistical Quality Standards D1, D2, and D3).
    6. Analyzing data and reporting results (Statistical Quality Standards E1 and E2).
    7. Reviewing information products (Statistical Quality Standard E3).
    8. Releasing information products (Statistical Quality Standards F1 and F2).

    Note: Managers responsible for each stage of the program generally are expected to prepare milestone schedules for their stages. The overall program manager can use these individual schedules to prepare the overall milestone schedule.
  3. An initial, overall cost estimate that identifies the resources needed and itemizes the costs to carry out the program.

    Note: Managers responsible for each stage of the program generally are expected to prepare cost estimates for their stages. The overall program manager can use these estimates to prepare the overall cost estimate.
  4. A description of deliverables to be received as the result of any contracts originated by the Census Bureau, including any documentation to be provided by contractors.

    Examples of such deliverables include:
    • Computer software or hardware.
    • Data files.
    • Advertising or outreach services and materials.
    • Specifications for software or hardware.
    • Quality control or quality assurance procedures, criteria, and results.

Sub-Requirement A1-2.1: When the sponsor of a reimbursable project requests the Census Bureau to carry out activities that do not comply with our Statistical Quality Standards or deliver products that do not conform with the standards, the program manager must:

  1. Obtain a waiver to carry out the noncompliant activities or to deliver the nonconforming products before agreeing to conduct the project. (See the Waiver Procedure for the procedures on obtaining a waiver.)
  2. Obtain from the sponsor a copy of the clearance package approved by the OMB, including any associated terms of clearance.
  3. Deliver to the sponsor written documentation that describes the following for each area of noncompliance:
    1. The details regarding the noncompliance issue.
    2. The consequences of performing the noncompliant work.
    3. The actions recommended by the Census Bureau that would result in compliance.

Requirement A1-3: For sample survey and census programs, a preliminary survey design must be developed that describes the:

  1. Target population and sampling frame.
  2. Sample design.
  3. Key data items and key estimates.
  4. Response rate goals.
  5. Data collection methods.
  6. Analysis methods.

Requirement A1-4: For administrative records projects, a preliminary study design must be developed that describes the:

  1. Target population.
  2. Coverage of the target population by the administrative records.
  3. Key data items and key estimates.
  4. Methods of integrating data sources, if more than one is used.
  5. Analysis methods.

Note: See the Administrative Records Handbook for complete information on planning a project that uses administrative records.

Requirement A1-5: Any contract or statement of work originated by the Census Bureau for deliverables that will be used in information products released by the Census Bureau must include provisions that the contractor comply with the Census Bureau’s statistical quality standards.

Requirement A1-6: Quality control checks must be performed to ensure the accuracy and completeness of the program plans, including all schedules, cost estimates, agreements (e.g., memoranda of understanding, statements of work, and contracts), survey designs, and study designs.

Requirement A1-7: Documentation needed to replicate and evaluate the data program must be produced. The documentation must be retained, consistent with applicable policies and data-use agreements, and must be made available to Census Bureau employees who need it to carry out their work. (See Statistical Quality Standard S2Managing Data and Documents.)

Examples of documentation include:

  • Program plans, including cost estimates and schedules, after all revisions.
  • Survey designs.
  • Study designs.
  • Decision memoranda.


  1. The documentation must be released on request to external users, unless the information is subject to legal protections or administrative restrictions that would preclude its release. (See Data Stewardship Policy DS007, Information Security Management Program.)
  2. Statistical Quality Standard F2Providing Documentation to Support Transparency in Information Products, contains specific requirements about documentation that must be readily accessible to the public to ensure transparency of information products released by the Census Bureau.
Page Last Revised - September 15, 2022
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