CBO takes a number of steps to ensure that all of its work is objective, impartial, and nonpartisan—the importance of which was emphasized by CBO’s founding director, Alice Rivlin, in a memo to CBO staff in 1976.
First, the agency’s analysts—who have a detailed understanding of federal programs and the tax code—carefully read the relevant research literature and extensively examine data collected and reported by the government’s statistical agencies and private organizations. CBO encourages open discussion of analytic issues.
Second, CBO enforces strict rules to prevent its employees from having financial conflicts of interest and to limit its employees’ political activities.
Third, CBO applies a rigorous review process to its analysis. All of CBO’s estimates and reports are reviewed by people at different levels in the organization, and the agency’s analytic reports are also reviewed by outside experts who specialize in the issue at hand, when that is practical. (Although CBO draws upon a diverse set of outside experts, the agency’s findings are based on its own judgments, and it is solely responsible for the substance and presentation of those findings.)
Fourth, CBO consults with numerous outside experts who represent a variety of perspectives. The experts include professors, analysts at think tanks, representatives of industry groups, other private-sector experts, and people working for federal agencies and for state and local governments. As part of that effort, the agency holds regular meetings with its Panel of Economic Advisers and Panel of Health Advisers, which consist of experts with a wide variety of backgrounds and specialized knowledge who are selected to represent a range of views. In addition, the agency explains the basis of its findings so that outside analysts can understand the results and question the methodologies used.
Fifth, CBO considers whether members and potential members of its panels of advisers are engaged in substantial political activity or have significant financial interests that might influence, or that might reasonably appear to influence, their perspective on the issues about which CBO is seeking their advice. That consideration includes a process through which members and potential members of the panels disclose such information.
Sixth, CBO makes no policy recommendations, because choices about public policy inevitably involve value judgments that the agency does not and should not make.