Policy Issue

Policy Watch: Changes in Federal Data Collection Affect Health Equity

April 16, 2024

A recent revision of federal data collection standards could bring deeper insight about the people who live and work in our communities. A cross-agency federal workgroup made recommendations on how to improve government data collection and record keeping of racial and ethnic information. These changes are significant because they will be adopted across numerous federal agencies, ultimately impacting the data that is used to inform public funding and research. Importantly, the changes can help identify and address health disparities at the local level.

In 1977 the federal Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and other federal agencies created a set of statistical policy directives known as SPD15 to ensure consistency in data collected across agencies and federal forms. The use of consistent format, language, and collection procedures for demographic data allows the government to enforce civil rights laws. In 2022 a workgroup was created to review how to continue collecting accurate and informative data under SPD15 given significant demographic shifts nationwide over the past few decades. The group’s recommendations were ultimately adopted by OMB and announced in late March 2024.

The new requirements for federal agencies include collecting racial and ethnic background in a single question; requiring more detailed response categories and encouraging respondents to choose as many as apply; and adding a distinct option for individuals of Middle Eastern or North African background. The changes are based on years of research and thousands of public comments. While it will take time for these changes to result in meaningful trend data, researchers and public health workers are encouraged and hopeful about the impact of the updates for addressing health disparities.

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