NextGen: At the Intersection of Evidence and Public Policy: Official Statistics

Katherine K. Wallman

Chief Statistician of the United States (1992-2017)


Daniel Patrick Moynihan, in his eloquent and pointed fashion, advised, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.” Our democracy and economy demand that public and private leaders have unbiased, relevant, accurate, and timely information on which to base their decisions. Taken together, official statistics on demographic, economic, and social conditions and trends are essential to inform decisions that are made by virtually every organization and household. If anything, the Nation’s official statistics are at the center of “Evidence-Based Policymaking”; statistics are at the heart of evidence – in a sense these statistics are the “old wine in new bottles.” But the system that produces our Nation’s official statistics – comprising agencies across every cabinet department and most independent agencies of the Federal Government – is facing growing challenges and opportunities. These challenges and opportunities need to be embraced, even as official statisticians remain true to the principles that have long-guided their work: relevance and timeliness; credibility and accuracy; objectivity; and assurance of confidentiality. While the guiding principles are timeless, official statisticians are challenged to leverage the world around them to meet information needs in new and perhaps better ways. Only then will we stand a chance of presenting the trusted facts that everyone can discuss and debate, and then no doubt agree to disagree, on policy options.