June 2020 Quarterly Meeting

June 5, 2020 @ 9:00 am – 3:30 pm EDT

Virtual Meeting

9:00 – 9:15Welcome and Report from the Board of Directors – Felice Levine, Chair COPAFS Board of Directors
9:15 – 10:00Update on the Federal Statistical System Kerrie Leslie, Office of the Chief Statistician of the United States, Office of Management and Budget.
10:00 – 11:00Federal Agency Update Panel 1
Ron Jarmin, Deputy Director, U.S. Census Bureau, DOC,
Mary Bohman, Acting Director, Bureau of economic Analysis, DOC (Update on BEA’s Statistics)
William Beach, Commissioner, Bureau of Labor Statistics, DOL
11:00 – 12:00Federal Agency Update Panel 2
  Emilda Rivers, Director, National Center for Science & Engineering Statistics
Kevin Barnes, Associate Administrator, National Agricultural Statistics Service, USDA (COVID-19 Impacts on NASS Programs)
  Marca Weinberg, Acting Administrator, Economic Research Service (Economic Research Service 2020 Update)
12:00 – 1:00Lunch on your own
1:00 – 2:00Federal Agency Update Panel 3
  Barry Johnson, Acting Chief, Research & Analytics Officer (Statics of Income Presentation)
  Kate Bent, Associate Commissioner, Office of  Research, Evaluation and Statistics, Social Security Administration (SSA’s Office of Research, Evaluation & Statistics (ORES)
  Patricia Hu, Director, Bureau of Transportation Statistics (COVID-19 and Transportation)
2:00 – 2:45Federal Agency Update Panel 4
  Brian Moyer, Director, National Center for Health Statistics (Update from the NCHS Director)
  James Lynn Woodward, Commissioner, National Center for Education Statistics
2:45 – 3:15Business Meeting

June 5 COPAFS Quarterly Meeting Summary

On Friday, June 5th, COPAFS held its second Quarterly Meeting of 2020. The meeting was held virtually, due to COVID-19 restrictions, and was attended by over 160 people. The meeting began with an update from OMB some highlights of which include,

  • The job posting for Chief Statistician of the US is now active and all qualified applicants are encouraged to apply (the posting closes on June 29); and
  • The FCSM conference initially scheduled for April has been converted to a virtual, one-day conference on September 21.

The rest of the meeting featured leaders of most of the federal statistical agencies, each giving an update on their operations during the COVID-19 pandemic, plans for the future, and current budget outlook. A number of themes became evident as the directors and commissioners spoke throughout the day. First and foremost was the overwhelming appreciation of the dedication and coordination of agency staff working both within and across agencies to conduct timely research which was disseminated very quickly to the public. The primary example of these efforts was the Census Pulse Survey which is releasing data measuring the impact of the COVID pandemic each week. Though conducted by the Census, input has been sought out from BLS, NCHS, ERS, and NCES for questions on employment, health and wellness, and distance learning. OMB employed a rapid approval to get the Pulse Survey in the field as quick as possible. As a result, the Pulse Survey has successfully collected and disseminated data from a national sample in the midst of a pandemic in record time from conception to implementation and continues to do so on a weekly basis. It is anticipated that similar efforts will be made post-pandemic as needs arise. In anticipation of this funding from Congress will be needed.

Some other themes that came out of the meeting included telework, issues with low staffing, and creating a balance between real time data collection and traditional methods such as in-person. The federal agencies had to convert to 100% telework within a few weeks. It is evident that telework works well and the conversion had very little impact on productivity across the agencies. The success of this may lead to more telework hours after the pandemic has subsided and offices open again. Currently, there are a number of agencies who are facing staff shortages, either due to relocation or employees nearing retirement age. The shortages pose real problems for the agencies especially when they occur at all levels within the organization. The most glaring opening at the moment is Chief Statistician of the United States, although this opening was posted in early June. Finally, despite the success of the Pulse Survey and other similar quick turnaround surveys, the need for more traditional data collection, such as in-person interviews, persists. Balancing the pros and cons of each while working within budget on these efforts is a challenge that agencies are going to face moving forward. Each of the agency representatives hoped to continue the quick turnaround efforts and saw various use cases for this beyond the COVID pandemic, but also acknowledged that budget constraints will force them to make some hard decisions.

Overall, the virtual meeting was successful and did a nice job showcasing the dedication, agility, and work ethic of the staff at the federal statistical agencies. Each agency showed how resilient it could be during these challenging times and their ability to not only adapt but innovate during the pandemic should be applauded.