GAO Report Highlights Data Gaps in Federal Programs for US Territories

A recent GAO report highlights significant gaps in data collection for federal programs affecting US territories, hindering effective policy development. The report recommends a coordinated federal approach to address these gaps and improve data collection for the territories.

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Nitish Verma
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GAO Report Highlights Data Gaps in Federal Programs for US Territories

GAO Report Highlights Data Gaps in Federal Programs for US Territories

A recent report by the US General Accountability Office (GAO) has shed light on significant gaps in data collection for federal programs affecting US territories, including American Samoa, Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, Puerto Rico, and US Virgin Islands. The report, titled "U.S. territories: Coordinated federal approach to better address data gaps," emphasizes the need for a coordinated federal approach to address these gaps and improve data collection for the territories.

Why this matters: The lack of accurate and comprehensive data on US territories hinders the development of effective policies and programs, ultimately affecting the well-being of their residents. Addressing thesedata gaps is crucial for ensuring that federal programs effectively serve the diverse needs of US territories and their communities.

The GAO report highlights that federal statistical products often lack data for US territories. Of the 52 statistical products reported by the National Agricultural Statistical Service, only one includes the territories. Similarly, of the 21 products reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, none include American Samoa or the Northern Mariana Islands, while Puerto Rico is included in just four products. Even when territories are included, there may be disparities in the timeliness and quality of territorial data compared to the rest of the US.

The report notes that the lack of reportable data in the Island Areas Census for some of the territory's smaller communities prevents them from being included in other composite statistics, such as the Social Vulnerability Index, which helps identify communities that may need support before, during, or after natural disasters. The GAO recommends that the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) develop a coordinated, government-wide approach for federal statistical agencies to use, in consultation with the US territories and other stakeholders, to examine the costs, benefits, and feasibility of including territories in statistical products and identify ways to address any data gaps.

US Congresswoman Uifa'atali Amata has praised the GAO report, stating, "I want to thank the GAO staff for working with all the territorial congressional offices to put this new report together so that we can use it to educate our colleagues from the states, help craft legislative solutions, and correct disparities in the funding of federal programs for the territories." The report was commissioned at the joint request of the territorial congressional offices with bipartisan support from the House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Bruce Westerman and Ranking Member Raul Grijalva.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated economic challenges in several territories, including decreased tourism. The lack of data collection and reporting practices often fail to measure, reflect, and disaggregate the diversity of experiences in Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander (AA and NHPI) communities, contributing to stereotypes and erasing unique needs within these communities. The White House Initiative on Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders (WHIAANHPI) has also highlighted the need for more disaggregated data, citing examples such as the high rate of liver cancer among Laotian women.

The GAO report builds on previous work that helped identify and correct disparities in federal Medicaid funding and matching requirements, leading to legislation that reduced cost share requirements and provided more coverage at a lower cost to local governments. As the GAO emphasizes, "Developing a coordinated, governmentwide approach for federal statistical agencies to use in examining and addressing territorial data gaps would improve the transparency of statistical decisions." Addressing these data gaps is crucial for ensuring that federal programs effectively serve the diverse needs of US territories and their communities.

Key Takeaways

  • GAO report highlights significant gaps in data collection for US territories.
  • Lack of accurate data hinders effective policy development and affects resident well-being.
  • Federal statistical products often exclude or inadequately represent US territories.
  • GAO recommends a coordinated approach to address data gaps and improve statistical products.
  • Accurate data is crucial for ensuring federal programs meet diverse needs of US territories.