COPAFS Focuses on Statistical Activities
Stephanie Shipp and Stephen Cohen, ASA Representatives to COPAFS
The Council of Professional Associations on Federal Statistics (COPAFS) is comprised of 60 members, including professional organizations, businesses, research institutes, and others interested in federal statistics. As a member of COPAFS, the ASA has two representatives from the Government Statistics Section who attend the quarterly meetings and report back to the ASA membership. Highlights of the September 11, 2009, meeting follow. Detailed minutes can be found here.
COPAFS Executive Director Ed Spar began the meeting by saying he would continue pursuing seminar opportunities. He then directed the audience’s attention to the upcoming FCSM conference, noting almost 300 people have registered for it already.
Next, he mentioned that the next COPAFS meeting will feature a discussion about the U.S. Census Bureau’s Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics (LEHD) program, which is noteworthy for its work with synthetic estimates.
On budgets, Spar said not much is happening and that a continuing resolution appears inevitable. The U.S. Census Bureau is expected to be exempted with an anomaly from flat funding, but the continuing resolution could pose problems for NCHS and other agencies. Howard Silver of the Consortium of Social Science Associations said a process is playing out in which the House takes care of justice and the Senate takes care of commerce, with the differences worked out in conference.
GDP and Beyond: Alternative Measures of the Economic Status of Households and Business
Steven Landefeld from the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) explained that the notion of going beyond the basic gross domestic product (GDP) measure dates to the formation of the accounts in the 1930s. The concern is that the basic measures focus too much on economic transactions without reference to social context. Landefeld described a disconnect between the GDP and what people see as important.
Commenting that BEA has been criticized for dabbling in alternative measures (e.g., green GDP), Landefeld said it would not go so far as the “index of happiness” considered by some. He pointed out that BEA staff members are actively exploring alternatives to the basic GDP. As examples, he cited work on measures of economic progress (how people or businesses are doing relative to the basic GDP) and described what he called “the issue of sustainability.”
Landefeld showed numerous slides illustrating alternative measures and the differences suggested for 2000–2007 and 2008. For example, much of the growth in liquid cash income is in supplemental sources, which would show a much less favorable picture of personal income if removed from the basic measure.
Turning to sustainability, Landefeld described net versus gross measures, including net versus gross domestic income and net versus GDP. GDP does not account for depreciation and the investments required for future production. Thus, GDP measures do not indicate how sustainable economic activity is over a long period of time. Landefeld presented a number of graphs to illustrate his point. One was a time series of household net worth and savings. Savings dropped while net worth increased, largely due to increased housing values and stock prices. With perceived wealth, people felt less need to save, but the phenomenon was not sustainable. Another graph tracked GDP, profits, and equity prices. Equity prices experienced dramatic increases without corresponding increases in profits and GDP, so also were not sustainable.
Landefeld said BEA’s work on alternative measures comes at a fortuitous time, given popular doubts about the value of economics and economists in the wake of the economic downturn. Economists have been criticized for not foreseeing the recent economic problems, and Landefeld sees BEA’s job as providing economists with the tools they need to do a better job. He closed by asserting that BEA has done a good job of fulfilling its current mission with the basic measures, but acknowledged the agency can provide useful additional information with alternative measures.
FY 2010 Initiatives at the Bureau of Justice Statistics
Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) Acting Director Michael Sinclair commented that the agency’s staff members have been working hard to take a fresh look at the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), which accounts for most of BJS’s expenditures, but is just one of its many data products.
Sinclair started with an overview of the NCVS, which has two major objectives: produce estimates of the incidence of victimization (of both reported and unreported crimes) and measure the characteristics and consequences of crime. He described these objectives as competing, in that they would be best accomplished with different survey designs. BJS has worked to balance these objectives, but hopes to make improvements with a redesign focusing on restoration and renovation.
Restoration includes near-term objectives such as improving the base program (within budget constraints) and increasing sample sizes to improve data precision. BJS also hopes to improve the U.S. Census Bureau’s operations with upgraded laptops, additional staff, and field interviewer training. Long-term objectives include the creation of a quality improvement program and the addition of new content.
Renovation objectives include small-area estimation, research on synthetic estimates, questionnaire revisions, and different sampling strategies. Plans call for field testing new methods in conjunction with current methods. Implementation of the program is targeted for 2013.
Sinclair summed up the NCVS work by noting that they look to maintain the core of the current survey while adding a supplemental strategy involving new sampling methods and data collection procedures. The supplements could piggy-back on the existing survey, but they also are considering a parallel survey for direct measures and the use of administrative data for synthetic estimates.