OMB looks to hire federal chief statistician again

The Eisenhower Executive Office Building, home of the Office of Management and Budget. (Getty Images)

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The Office of Management and Budget reposted a job announcement for the federal chief statistician — a position that’s been vacant almost two years — to USAJobs.gov on Thursday.

As leader of the Federal Statistical System, the chief statistician chairs a number of committees, facilitates discussions on governmentwide data standards, serves as the U.S. statistical representative in international forums like the U.N., and drives implementation of the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act.

OMB tried and failed to fill the opening left by Nancy Potok in January 2020, even conducting interviews before removing the initial job posting, and the agency has missed deadlines for two Evidence Act regulatory actions as a result.

“All of those regulatory actions are behind schedule,” Nick Hart, president of the Data Foundation, told FedScoop. “The chief statistician role is one of the most important roles for the federal data infrastructure.”

OMB did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Even if a chief statistician is eventually hired, the process will take months, Hart said.

In the absence of a chief statistician, other people have stepped in to chair the Advisory Committee on Data for Evidence Building and the Equitable Data Working Group in an acting capacity. But “major gaps” have emerged in the federal data infrastructure and discussions around race and ethnicity data standards have suffered, Hart said.

OMB missed the Evidence Act deadline to promulgate the Presumption of Accessibility regulation by Jan. 14, 2020, though it’s on the regulatory agenda for October. Under the rule, OMB is to require the timely provision of data assets, identify legal exemptions, establish standards compliant with the Privacy Act and establish a transparent request process.

The agency also missed the Jan. 14, 2020, deadline to promulgate the Responsibilities of Statistical Agencies regulation covering their timely dissemination of information, the accuracy and objectivity of their activities, and preserving public trust confidential and exclusive statistical use of their responses. While the Biden administration added the rule to the regulatory agenda for July, it has yet to be handled.

A chief statistician would normally be driving such efforts.

“For all of the really important things that the chief statistician does for the United States, it’s not a sufficiently senior role within the White House organizational structure today,” Hart said.

The role is at the level of branch chief, when it should probably be elevated one level up to a deputy associate director, he added.

OMB Director Shalanda Young could make that change, which would likely encourage more qualified candidates to apply for the job.

“It definitely needs a strong leader with some experience, both in government but also working with data issues,” Hart said. “There are probably a lot of people who are imminently qualified for that role.”

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chief statistician, Data Foundation, Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act, Nancy Potok, Nick Hart, Office of Management and Budget (OMB), Shalanda Young
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