Tapping Experts to Improve Federal Statistics: The Federal Economic Statistics Advisory Committee
Guest blog by Robert Groves, Director, U.S. Census Bureau.Major economic statistics tell us fundamental facts about the
state of the economy – where we have been and how we are doing. They allow citizens, businesses, and
governments to assess how things are going.
Examples of such statistics include Gross Domestic Product (GDP), produced
by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA); U.S. international trade in
goods and services, produced by the U.S. Census Bureau; and the consumer and
producer price indexes, produced by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). While each example statistic is issued by only one statistical agency,
some – such as GDP - hit the statistical “trifecta” because they are built from
data from all three agencies.
Keeping those statistics up-to-date and relevant to an
ever-changing economy is central to the credibility of statistical
organizations such as the Census Bureau, BEA, and BLS. It is also a significant challenge for the agencies.
We use many tactics and strategies to make sure our data are current and
relevant. Getting good advice from
experts in relevant fields, through advisory committees, is one of those
strategies. Hearing about both the
strengths and weaknesses of our data in an open and public setting is essential
to improving our data and maintaining their credibility.
I am excited that we get advice from the Federal Economic
Statistics Advisory Committee (FESAC).
FESAC advises the heads of the Census Bureau and BEA – both in the
Department of Commerce – as well as the Department of Labor’s BLS. FESAC’s
mission -- to recommend research to address important technical problems -- aims
at improving exactly complex economic statistics relying on data from not just
one, but two or three of these agencies.
On June 17, 2011, FESAC members hear presentations from
leading experts on three highly relevant topics: the redesign of the Consumer Expenditure
Survey, proposals for new statistics on the financial sector, and new
statistics calculating the price of medical care. The other statistical agency heads and I will
benefit from the presentations and from the vigorous discussion by FESAC
members. We have aresponsibility to be transparent about how we create our
data. Transparency includes hearing what
works and what does not work.
I know a lot about FESAC.
I served on FESAC for many years until I became Director of the Census
One strength of FESAC is its multi-disciplinary
perspective. The new DOC FESAC members
include: Professor Joseph Altonji, Professor of Economics, Yale University;
Professor Ernst Berndt, Professor of Applied Economics, MIT Sloan School of
Management; Mr. Barry Bosworth, Senior Fellow, Economic Studies Program, The
Brookings Institution; Professor F. Jay Breidt, Professor and Chair, Department
of Statistics, Colorado State University; Professor Don Dillman, Distinguished
Professor of Government and Public Policy, Social & Economic Sciences
Research Center, Washington State University; Professor Pinelopi Goldberg,
Professor of Economics, Yale University; Professor John Haltiwanger, Professor
of Economics, University of Maryland; Professor Valerie Ramey, Professor of
Economics, University of California, San Diego; Mr. Richard Rippe, Managing
Director and Economist, ISI Group, New York, NY; (Chairman of FESAC) Professor
Matthew Shapiro, Professor of Economics, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor MI;
and Professor Kirk Wolter, Senior Vice President of Statistics and Methodology
and Professor of Statistics at the University of Chicago.
Building solid, credible, current economic statistics
requires the contributions of economists, survey methodologists, statisticians,
and other behavioral and social scientists.
FESAC members include noted experts in these disciplines, many of whom
have been recognized for their scientific and professional accomplishments. Steve Landefeld, the Director of BEA, Keith Hall, the Commissioner
of BLS, and I value getting members’ views on issues facing our three agencies. Their feedback is extremely important to
keeping our work relevant and current.
It also helps us target our resources to get the best data for the