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Tapping Experts to Improve Federal Statistics: The Federal Economic Statistics Advisory Committee

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FESAC members with Acting  Deputy Secretary Rebecca Blank

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 Bureau.

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 taxpayer’s dollar.

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nice blog