The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), located within the Office of Justice Programs (OJP), is the primary statistical agency of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). BJS is responsible for producing and disseminating official statistics on crime and justice. BJS is one of 13 principal statistical agencies recognized by the Office of Management and Budget whose activities are predominantly the collection, compilation, processing, or analysis of information for statistical purposes.
As a federal statistical agency, BJS embraces and is guided by a well-established set of principles and practices followed by the federal statistical community. These principles and practices ensure the public has access to credible, objective, and trustworthy data and statistics on meaningful and timely criminal justice topics that are independent of undue external influence.
Principles and Practices for a Federal Statistical Agency
Federal statistical agencies are charged with providing relevant, accurate, and timely data to inform public and private decision-making. To meet this charge, statistical agencies adhere to the principles and practices articulated in the Committee on National Statistics (CNSTAT) report, Principles and Practices for a Federal Statistical Agency, to guide their strategic planning, daily operations, and interactions with stakeholders.
CNSTAT, established in 1972 at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, provides an independent review of and develops recommendations to guide federal statistical activities. CNSTAT’s Principles and Practices for a Federal Statistical Agency provides a framework for statistical agencies to embrace a common set of professional standards and operational practices designed to ensure the quality, integrity, and credibility of their statistical activities. Actual or perceived violations of any of these principles undermine the scientific integrity of, and public confidence in, the data produced by principal statistical agencies.
By adopting and following these guiding principles and practices, BJS is well-positioned to maintain the trust of its data providers and fulfill its mandate to provide accurate, timely, relevant, and objective data for public and policy use.
Principles are fundamental and intrinsic to the concept of a federal statistical agency. CNSTAT identified five fundamental principles, listed below, that statistical agencies are encouraged to use to guide their managerial, programmatic, and technical decisions. Readers can click on the link associated with each principle for a more detailed discussion:
Excerpt: “Federal statistical agencies must provide objective, accurate, and timely information that is relevant to important public policy issues…. To ensure that they are providing relevant information, statistical agencies need to reach out to a wide range of their data users, including staff in their own departments and other federal departments who use their data, members of Congress and congressional staff, state and local government agencies, academic researchers, businesses and other organizations, organized constituent groups, and the media.” See Principle 1: Relevance to Policy Issues and Society.
Excerpt: “The value of a statistical agency rests fundamentally on the accuracy and credibility of its data products. Because few data users have the resources to verify the accuracy of statistical information, they rely on an agency’s reputation to disseminate high-quality, objective, and useful statistics in an impartial manner. Only if its products are viewed as credible can an agency be regarded as working in the national interest, not beholden to a particular set of users…. Agencies build and maintain respect and trust through clear public commitments to professional practice and transparency in all that they do [and] should actively engage with users in determining priorities for data collection and analysis, make their data available widely on an equal basis to all users, formally and informally, and fully inform users of the strengths and weaknesses of the data.” See Principle 2: Credibility among Data Users and Stakeholders.
Excerpt: “Federal statistical agencies must have the trust of those whose information they obtain…. Data providers must trust that the information the agency seeks is important for the government to collect and is being collected in a competent manner, for the good of the larger society, and only for the purposes that the agency has described. To engender trust, a statistical agency should also respect the privacy of data providers in other ways and ensure that each individual’s consent to respond to a survey is given knowingly and with full information. Agencies should describe the intended and likely future uses of the data being collected, the data’s relevance for important public purposes, and the extent of confidentiality protection that will be provided. Agencies should minimize the intrusiveness of questions and the effort needed to respond to them, and they should seek administrative or other non-survey sources to fulfill needs consistent with each agency’s requirements for information. Trust among data providers also requires that an agency treat respondents with courtesy in appreciation for their time.” See Principle 3: Trust among the Public and Data Providers.
Excerpt: “A statistical agency must be impartial and execute its mission without being subject to pressures to advance any political or personal agenda. It must avoid even the appearance that its collection, analysis, or reporting processes might be manipulated for political or other purposes. Only in this way can a statistical agency serve as a trustworthy source of objective, relevant, accurate, and timely information. Statistical agencies and the statistical data they produce can play a key role in informing policy makers, but they are not and should not be responsible for developing or implementing policy…. It is also essential that a statistical agency be independent of other undue external influence in developing, producing, and disseminating statistics. ”Undue external influences“ are those from outside the agency that seek to undermine its impartiality, nonpartisanship, or professional judgment. Independence from any undue outside influence fosters trust among data providers and credibility with data users." See Principle 4: Independence from Political and Other Undue External Inﬂuence.
Excerpt: “Federal statistical agencies must continually seek to improve and innovate their processes, methods, and statistical products to better measure an ever-changing world. Federal statistical agencies cannot be static. They must continually improve and innovate to be able to create reliable information on new policy questions, to provide objective information in a cost-effective way, and to meet user demands for more timely and granular information for statistical purposes…. To provide relevant information, statistical agencies must attend to changes in policy issues in their domain, identify emerging needs, and work with their data users and stakeholders to identify gaps in the agency portfolio or potential new statistical products that are needed…. Agencies should engage in regular, periodic reviews of their major data collection programs that consider how to produce relevant, accurate, and timely data in the most cost-effective manner possible, while seeking to maintain comparability in key statistics over time and across geographies…. Statistical agencies need a robust research program that includes statistical methods, quality assessments, and evaluations of potential new data sources. An effective statistical agency seeks out and carefully evaluates the quality and utility of potential new data sources and methods to harness information that could be useful for statistical purposes.” See Principle 5: Continual Improvement and Innovation.
Practices are the ways and means of making the basic principles operational and facilitating an agency’s adherence to them. CNSTAT identified 10 critical practices, listed below, that statistical agencies are encouraged to follow to support and promote effective and principled operations. Readers can click on the link associated with each practice for a more detailed discussion:
- A Clearly Defined and Well-Accepted Mission
- Necessary Authority and Procedures to Protect Independence
- Commitment to Quality and Professional Standards of Practice
- Professional Advancement of Staff
- An Active Research Program
- Strong Internal and External Evaluation Processes for an Agency’s Statistical Programs
- Coordination and Collaboration with Other Statistical Agencies
- Respect for Data Providers and Protection of Their Data
- Dissemination of Statistical Products That Meet Users’ Needs
- Openness about Sources and Limitations of the Data Provided
For more information, see CNSTAT’s Principles and Practices for a Federal Statistical Agency (7th edition, 2021).