The Congressional Budget Office’s Access to Data From Federal Agencies
The House Committee on Appropriations requested information about CBO's access to data from federal agencies, including data sources and data sets. This report provides that information.
During consideration of the fiscal year 2021 appropriation bill for the legislative branch, the House Committee on Appropriations requested information about the Congressional Budget Office’s access to data from federal agencies, including data sources and data sets. This report provides that information.
To fulfill its mission, CBO accesses a wide array of data from federal agencies. CBO uses those data for producing baseline budget projections, economic projections, cost estimates, and reports. The Congressional Budget Act of 1974 (the Budget Act) provides CBO general authority to access data from a variety of sources. CBO also accesses data by using specific authority or by collaborating with other agencies.
CBO uses both public data and data that are not public (because they are confidential, proprietary, or otherwise restricted). Using publicly available data can help the agency respond to Congressional requests in a timely manner, but those data do not always provide the information needed for the level of analysis requested. Sometimes additional information is available from the agencies even if it has not been released to the public. When public data are insufficient to answer a question, CBO’s analysts can obtain data from agencies through either informal or formal agreements. CBO currently has more than 20 active data use agreements with other federal agencies.
Restricted data, and especially restricted data linked to other sources (known as commingled data), tend to offer more information and are useful for examining a broader set of issues of interest to the Congress. However, access to restricted data, and the release of analytical products based on those data, may be hindered because CBO must navigate multiple legal authorities and ensure that the data remain secure throughout the process.
CBO accesses restricted data in a variety of ways. The most common way for CBO to access such data is for the owners to transmit the data to CBO to be housed on-site or in an approved system in the cloud (an Internet-based environment supplying computing, storage, and software infrastructure as a service). That involves following specified security procedures, which vary depending on the agency and the data. CBO may also access restricted data through another agency’s systems or through a third party, such as a contractor.
CBO is obligated to protect data in the same way that other federal agencies do. When data are collected for statistical purposes, they must be protected to ensure confidentiality. Enhancements in computing power and the increasing availability of outside data sources are leading to changes in standards and best practices for maintaining privacy, including the implementation of formal privacy methods. Those changes may increase the time needed for some analyses and thus affect CBO’s ability to be responsive to the Congress.