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 December 4, 2009, meeting held at the Bureau of Labor Statistics follow.
COPAFS Executive Director Ed Spar began the meeting by noting that the government is still running on a continuing resolution, and no one knows when the budgets will be finalized. Expectations are that the U.S. Census Bureau will continue to receive anomalies to flat funding, but budgets for other agencies are still in the air.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is considering a redesign of the Consumer Expenditure Survey, and COPAFS has been asked to provide a two-day workshop on the topic. The last redesign dates to the early 1980s, and the process would be lengthy, so BLS is not rushing into it. Spar will keep COPAFS members posted.
Initial plans for the Demographic Analysis (DA) (pdf) measure of census coverage were to report persons missed and duplications for only the national and regional levels. During a recent meeting of the 2010 Census Advisory Committee, Spar and others made the case for reporting the component measures for states. The DA project is on target to report results by the end of next year, and COPAFS will provide a workshop on the topic.
Turning to the American Community Survey (ACS), Spar mentioned that the first five-year data are due in 2010. However, these data will be weighted to estimates based on the 2000 census, while the next set of five-year estimates (released in 2011) will be controlled to estimates based on the 2010 census. There is concern about the inconsistencies the first set will have with the 2010 census and the discontinuities with the second set (exacerbated by the transition to 2010 geography), so discussions about how to best handle these releases are in progress at the U.S. Census Bureau.
Spar reported that the redesign of the COPAFS web site is moving along and that the COPAFS meeting dates for 2010 are March 5, June 4, September 24, and December 3.
Ataman Ozyildirim of The Conference Board announced that the upcoming Centre for International Research on Economic Tendency Surveys (CIRET) conference will be held in New York on October 16. For more information, contact Ozyildirim at Ataman.Ozyildirim@conference-board.org.
Paul Bugg of the Office of Statistical and Science Policy at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) described Data.gov (launched in March 2009) as a flagship initiative reflecting the administration’s commitment to transparency and open government. The basic ideas are that the free flow of information between government and the public is essential to a democratic society and that the public’s ability to discover and understand information is of broad social benefit.
An early question from the audience concerned how Data.gov relates to Fedstats. Bugg explained that Data.gov goes beyond federal data and enables users to search across agencies by topic. One could, for example, search for “household income” to identify income data provided by various agencies. Bugg also explained that the current platform, or web site, is a first step from which the Data.gov system will evolve.
A key objective of Data.gov is to assist finding and using government data. There are more than 24,000 “dot-gov” web sites, and one often needs to understand the government’s organizational structure to find data sets of interest. Data are not always downloadable from legacy systems with outdated technology. Data.gov is designed to transcend stovepipes and encourage innovative applications by enabling access to data in formats that can be analyzed.
In response to a question about who is responsible for Data.gov, Bugg stressed it is not OMB, although he attributed its origin to OMB’s chief information officer. Data.gov, he said, can be thought of as a set of links providing easier access to data already available. Responsibility for confidentiality rests with the agencies that collect and report the data, and the originating agencies need to be aware of any implications of wider access through Data.gov.
Data.gov defines raw data as machine-readable, structured data sets that can be used for multiple purposes and “mashed up” with other data (combined on the fly by a wide range of users). Some attendees expressed confusion about the definition. There will be an opportunity for the public to comment on Data.gov through the Federal Register.
Data.gov favors XML, CSF/TXT, and RSS formats and prefers not to post data in PDF format or HTML tables containing data. As a matter of policy, agencies retain control of their data, provide metadata, and are aware of the implications of broad access through Data.gov.
Bugg described a senior advisory group that provides OMB with a forum for working with those responsible for data generation and dissemination and provides advice about strategic and other issues. The advisory group consists primarily of federal entities (such as the Interagency Council on Statistical Policy) and does not include data user groups.
National Survey of Residential Care Facilities
Lauren Harris-Kojetin of the National Center for Health Statistics explained that the National Survey of Residential Care Facilities (NSRCF) has two major government partners: the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Its goals are to provide general purpose national-level data to support decisionmaking and to fill a significant gap in the collection of data on providers of long-term care. The survey estimates the size of the residential care industry and the characteristics of both the facilities and residents who live in them.
The NSRCF defines residential care facilities as places that are licensed, registered, or otherwise regulated by the state. They provide room and board (at least two meals per day) and around-the-clock, on-site supervision, as well as help with personal care or healthcare related service for a primarily adult population. Facilities also must have at least four beds. They are licensed to serve the mentally ill or mentally retarded. Developmentally disabled populations are excluded. Harris-Kojetin noted there is no definition that applies across all states, and that states license facilities under terms such as assisted living, board and care, congregate care, family care, and personal care.
The survey is needed because the aging population has increased the need for long-term care services, little is known about these facilities, and current surveys are designed for other purposes. Harris-Kojetin said the number of residential care facilities has grown rapidly and now rivals the number of nursing homes nationwide.
The survey consists of a facility questionnaire, resident sampling questionnaire, and resident questionnaire. The sample is a two-stage national probability design, with facilities sampled first, then residents within the facility. The goal is to sample 2,250 facilities and 8,450 residents. The survey starts with telephone eligibility screening, followed by computer-assisted personal interviews conducted in person. The facility questionnaire is conducted with the facility administrator, and the resident questionnaire is conducted with staff members knowledgeable about selected residents (e.g., a nurse aide or floor supervisor). The residents themselves are not interviewed.
Harris-Kojetin described a pretest and the response rates it experienced (without attempts to reverse refusal). Reasons for refusal included the inability to contact the facility director, director’s/staff’s lack of time, lack of interest, or corporate refusal (some facilities are part of a chain). Harris-Kojetin also described outreach activities, including meetings with the Center for Excellence in Assisted Living (CEAL). An association of associations related to the industry, CEAL provides insight into contact materials and promotes participation in the survey (e.g., through a joint letter sent in advance that communicates industry support for the survey).
Harris-Kojetin described a number of other measures taken to gain cooperation. She also noted that the NSRCF is a long survey, taking about three hours to administer. Once facilities agree to participate in the survey, however, few drop out due to the lengthy process. Getting initial agreement is the challenge. The low dropout rate may be due in part to the pre-interview worksheet sent to help facilities prepare for the interviews. The worksheet ensures there are no major surprises in the interview process and reduces the sense of respondent burden.
The upcoming NSRCF schedule is as follows:
March–October: Facility recruitment
April–October: Data collection
Early 2010: Public use files, methods report, and release of first findings product