Federal Working Group Aims to Improve Demographic Data

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Data Coalition

Federal Working Group Aims to Improve Demographic Data

Author Austin Hepburn, Research and Policy Intern, Data Foundation

On the first day of their Administration, the Biden-Harris team issued an Executive Order on Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government (Executive Order 13985). The executive order was issued to promote and protect equitable policies and data in the Federal Government. These efforts supported the inclusion of marginalized groups in Federal research and analysis, the improvement of equitable policies, and to provide each person with the opportunity to reach their full potential.   

In order to ensure the implementation of the program, the White House Domestic Policy Council (DPC) is “directed to coordinate the efforts to embed equity principles, policies, and approaches across the Federal Government.” This includes efforts to remove systemic barriers, develop policies to advance equity, and encourage communication between the National Security Council and the National Economic Council. As noted in the EO, it is the responsibility of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to analyze and “assess whether agency policies create or exacerbate barriers to full and equal participation by all eligible individuals.” This responsibility is key to identifying and quantifying the challenges toward equity. 

The Executive Order recognized the important role of disaggregating data, or data that has been broken down by detailed sub-categories, such as race, ethnicity, gender, disability, income, veteran status, and other key demographic variables, by creating the Equitable Data Working Group. The Working Group has been tasked with “identifying inadequacies in existing Federal data collection infrastructure and laying out a strategy for improving equitable data practices in the Federal government.” This is accomplished through the collection of new data or through the combination of multiple data sources in order to fill the data gaps that make assessments of equity difficult, which in turn supports evidence-based policies within the Federal government and state and local governments through vertical policy diffusion. “By exploring key policy questions dependent upon underutilized, inaccessible, or missing data, the Equitable Data Working Group explores ways to leverage government data in order to measure and promote equity.” 

Despite overwhelming positives in exposing gaps of data, the Group recognizes there are possible unintended consequences when considering privacy and the vulnerability of underserved populations. With this in mind, aggregating data into summary data can help understand broad trends within these communities without disseminating personal data. For example, the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) collects data on self-reported accounts of criminal victimization. The NCVS produces reports that break down victimization data by race, ethnicity, gender, age, marital status, and income. However, once the data is able to be separated by race, researchers and analysts can provide summary statistics and better insights into disparities, without exposing personal identifiers. This protects the privacy of those who have been surveyed while still leveraging the data collected, while helping us answer important policy questions about crime. 

The Data Coalition Initiative will be looking for how the Working Group is approaching these issues when its first report is provided to Ambassador Susan Rice, Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy, this fall, which will identify and discuss the barriers and gaps of equitable data identified through case studies, along with recommendations on how to address these problems.

The Working Group report will also include a plan to foster new partnerships among Federal agencies, academic and research partners, state, local, and tribal governments, community and advocacy groups, and other stakeholders, in order to leverage Federal data for new insights on the effects of structurally biased policies, and to advance capacity for multilayered, intersectional analysis of Federal datasets. The Data Coalition is looking forward to the chance to engage with the Working Group on its efforts, and will continue to provide updates as their important work progresses.