Two recently introduced House and Senate transportation bills include provisions to give the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) more control over its budget, information technology (IT), and publications. Senator John Thune (R-SD), chair of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation (CST) Committee introduced S. 1732, the Comprehensive Transportation and Consumer Protection Act of 2015 last week, just a few weeks after Congressman Dan Lipinski (D-IL), ranking member of the Research and Infrastructure Subcommittee of the House Science, Space, and Technology (SST) Committee introduced H.R. 2886, the Future Transportation Research and Innovation for Prosperity (FutureTRIP) Act. Both bills include strong provisions boosting the autonomy of BTS, provisions urged by many BTS stakeholders (including the ASA who lead the effort.) See below for the actual bill language.
The ASA, along with more than ten other organizations, thanked Chairman Thune and Congressman Lipinski in letters this month (Lipinski, Thune) and urged these autonomy provisions be enacted in final transportation legislation. The letters state, in part, the provisions
help ensure the country’s transportation decisions are informed by statistical data that are trusted by the public to be objective, valid, and reliable. As a letter recently signed by 20 former statistical agency heads states, “All sides of a policy debate should be able to look to the statistical data as objective and high quality. Any perception that the data have been influenced by a partisan perspective undermines the policy making and its administration.” The importance of a federal statistical agency having sole control over its budget, publications, and IT are well recognized in the recently issues OMB Statistical Policy Directive #1, “Fundamental Responsibilities of Federal Statistical Agencies and Recognized Statistical Units,” and in the National Academy of Sciences’ Principles and Practices for a Federal Statistical Agency (fifth edition, 2013). With BTS’s move in FY15 to the Office of the Secretary, it is also important that these controls be enacted by Congress in transportation legislation.
The letter also notes the concern around the BTS budget and how the autonomy provisions may help address the BTS budget pressures:
The BTS budget has been stagnant for the past ten years. Indeed, its FY15 budget is the same as the FY05 budget, $26 million, thereby eroding BTS of 20 percent of its purchasing power. We also understand the now-defunct Research and Innovation Technology Administration used significant portions of BTS’s authorized Highway Trust Fund (HTF) funding for its operations, further diminishing BTS’s operations. As a result of BTS’s constrained budget, the intercity passenger travel survey has not been done since 1995 and the vehicle inventory and use survey since 2002, forcing policy makers to make decisions on multi-billion dollar projects on outdated data. For these reasons, twenty organizations signed onto a letter early this year in support of the President’s FY16 Budget of $29 million for BTS with inflationary increases for the out-years. (See enclosure.) We again urge these levels be incorporated into final transportation legislation. We also believe the budget autonomy provisions of H.R. 2866 will help BTS to allocate more of its authorized HTF funding to resuming these very important surveys and undertaking new projects.
The Senate CST and House SST committees are two of the four committees with jurisdiction over transportation legislation. Earlier this summer, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee introduced its bipartisan legislation, S. 1647, Developing a Reliable and Innovative Vision for the Economy (DRIVE) Act, which contained flat funding for BTS at $26 million for FY16-FY21 (the flat funding due largely to the very difficult funding pressures for the drastically underfunded Highway Trust Fund.) The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is expected to release its transportation bill within the next few months.
Besides control over budget and publications, the importance of BTS—and any federal statistical agency—controlling its IT was heightened by recent legislation providing more power and control to a department's Chief Information Officer. Earlier this year, ASA President David Morganstein responded to an OMB call for comments on the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA) urging in his May 29, 2015 letter, "every effort be made to ensure that FITARA not undermine the work of the federal statistical agencies, work which is critical to informing policymaking, decision-making, and public administration." In their final FITARA guidance (M-15-14), OMB seems to follow this urging (also made by others) with statements like this one: "With respect to Federal statistical agencies and units as defined in the Confidential Information Protection and Statistical Efficiency Act of 2002 (CIPSEA),5 covered agencies under FITARA shall implement this guidance in a manner that ensures that statistical data collected under a pledge of confidentiality solely for statistical purposes are used exclusively for statistical purposes, consistent with CIPSEA."
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Section 1306 of S. 1732
19 Section 6302 is amended by adding at the end the
21 ‘‘(d) INDEPENDENCE OF BUREAU.—
22 ‘‘(1) IN GENERAL.—The Director shall not be
24 ‘‘(A) to obtain the approval of any other
25 officer or employee of the Department with re-
1 spect to the collection or analysis of any infor-
2 mation; or
3 ‘‘(B) prior to publication, to obtain the ap-
4 proval of any other officer or employee of the
5 United States with respect to the substance of
6 any statistical technical reports or press re-
7 leases lawfully prepared by the Director.
8 ‘‘(2) BUDGET AUTHORITY.—The Director shall
9 have final authority for the disposition and alloca-
10 tion of the Bureau’s authorized budget, including—
11 ‘‘(A) all hiring, grants, cooperative agree-
12 ments, and contracts awarded by the Bureau to
13 carry out this section; and
14 ‘‘(B) the disposition and allocation of
15 amounts paid to the Bureau for cost-reimburs-
16 able projects.
17 ‘‘(3) EXCEPTIONS.—The Secretary shall direct
18 external support functions, such as the coordination
19 of activities involving multiple modal administra-
21 ‘‘(4) INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY.—In consulta-
22 tion with the Chief Information Officer, the Director
23 shall have the final authority in decisions regarding
24 information technology in order to protect the con-
25 fidentiality of information provided solely for statis-
1 tical purposes, in accordance with the Confidential
2 Information Protection and Statistical Efficiency Act
3 of 2002 (44 U.S.C. 3501 note).’’
Section 7d of H.R. 2886
(d) Additional Authority.—Section 6302 of title 49, United States Code, is amended by adding at the end the following:
“(d) Decisionmaking Authority.—To ensure ongoing objectivity of the products of the Director, the Director has sole decisionmaking authority in the collection, analysis, and publication of data and statistics for the Bureau to fulfill the purposes of this section, in accordance with Statistical Policy Directive #1 and Statistical Policy Directive #4 of the Office of Management and Budget.
“(e) Budget Allocation Authority.—The Director shall have final authority for the disposition and allocation of the authorized budget of the Bureau to enable fulfillment of the purposes of this section, including all hiring, grants, cooperative agreements, and contracts awarded by the Bureau, including the disposition and allocation of funds paid to the Bureau for cost-reimbursable projects.
“(g) Information Technology Decisions.—Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the provisions of section 11319 of title 40 shall not apply to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.”.