Hearing on Multiracial Identification

Statement of Sally Katzen
Administrator, Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs
Office of Management and Budget

Before the Subcommittee on Government Management, Information and Technology
of the House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight

Hearing on Multiracial Identification
25 July 1997


Mr. Chairman and members of the Subcommittee:

I appreciate your inviting me here today to continue our discussions about the review of the Office of Management and Budget's (OMB) Statistical Policy Directive No. 15 on "Race adn Ethnic Standards for Federal Statistics and Admnistrative Reporting." When I last appeared before you on April 23rd, I provided a progress report on the OMB review process. As you know, that process began following Congressional hearings in 1993 and has included both public comment to suggest changes and research to explore possible implications of those suggested changes on the quality of the resulting data. (Highlights of the review process are summarized in Attachment 1.)

At the time of my last testimony, we were awaiting the release of the Bureau of the Census report, Results of the 1996 Race and Ethnic Targeted Test (RAETT), which was issued on May 15th. That report presented results from the third major test of alternative approaches to collecting Federal data on race and ethnicity. The release of the RAETT report marked the completion of the research phase of our review process. The Research Working Group of the Interagency Committee for the Review of the Racial and Ethnic Standards (a group of 30 Federal agencies that use or generate data on race and ethnicity) then proceeded to evaluate the RAETT results, along with the other research findings and public views, and to complete the report to OMB.

Interagency's Committee Report to OMB

OMB published the full report of the Interagency Committee, including the Committee's recommendations for how OMB should revise Directive No. 15, in the Federal Register on July 9, 1997 (62 FR 36873 – 36946) for a comment period of 60 days. The Interagency Committee's Report to the Office of Management and Budget on the Review of Statisticcal Policy Directive No. 15 consists of six chapters. Chapter 1 provides a brief history of Directive No. 15, a summary of the issues considered by the Interagency Committee; an overview of the research activities, and a discussion of the critieria used in evaluating the findings. Chapter 2 discusses a number of general concerns that need to be addressed when considering any changes to the current standards. Chapters 3 through 5 report the results of the research as they bear on the more significant suggestions OMB received for changes to the Federal categories for data on race and ethnicity. Chapter 6 outlines the Interagency Committee's recommendations, and presents a summary of findings related to the suggested changes based on the Committee's review of public comment, testimony, and the research results. I would encourage reading the full report, since Chapters 1 through 5 provide both a context and the bases for the Interagency Committee's recommendations outlined in Chapter 6. I would also note that the Interagency Committee's report and recommendations were adopted without dissent or any separate concurrences.

Highlights of Recommendations to OMB

Briefly, I would like to provide an overview of the Interagency Committee's recommendations to OMB for how the Federal standards for classifying data on race and ethnicity should be changed.

Multiracial Issue

The most controversial and sensitive issue that the Interagency Committee considered was how to classify data on race and ethnicity for individuals who are of mixed racial heritage and wish to identify with more than one race. The research explored the effects of both adding a "multiracial" category and the alternative methods for selecting more than one race. The studies carried out under the auspices of the Research Working Group indicated that less than two percent of the population identified with two or more races when given the opportunity to do so, but that the proportion of the population with a mixed racial heritage appears to be growing. Moreover, a significant number of respondents currently select more than one racial category even when instructed to mark only one. In addition, research in this area indicated that the term "multiracial" frequently was misunderstood by respondents. Permitting respondents to select one or more categories to designate their racial heritage, on the other hand, would provide data that would be analytically powerful for a variety of purposes. The Interagency Committee recommended that:

  • The standard should allow individuals who wish to do so to reflect more than one race when responding to Federal data collections.
  • There should not be a separate racial category (a check box) called "multiracial."
  • To provide information about their mixed racial heritage, individuals should be able to check one or more of the historical categories that have been used for the past 20 years.
  • When the data are reported, a minimum of one additional racial category, designated "More than one race," must be included, if the criteria for data quality and confidentiality are met, in order to report the aggregate number of multiple race responses. Data producers are encouraged to provide greater detail about the distribution of multiple responses.

Hispanic Origin

The Interagency Committee considered the research on the issue of whether there should be a combined race/Hispanic origin question instead of two separate questions to gather dta on race and Hispanic origin. In the 1990 census, which used separate questions — with the race question preceding the Hispanic origin question — a high percentage of Hispanics selected "Other race." Moreover, nonresponse rates for the Hispanic origin question were exceptionally high. Thus, the research agenda explored both the issue of a single versus separate questions, and the ordering of questions when they are separate. These tests were designed to ascertain which format produces more complete data on Hispanics and non-Hispanics; that is, which format worked best in terms of reducing nonresponse to the Hispanic origin question and reducing reporting as "Other race" in the race question. With respect to the Hispanic origin question, the Interagency Committee recommended that:

  • The Hispanic origin question should be asked separately, before the race question, if self-identification is used.

Minimum Set of Categories

Public comment and testimony of witnesses at OMB and Congressional hearings included a variety of requests to expand the minimum set of categories by establishng additional categories for specific populations groups, including Middle Easterners/Arabs, Cape Verdeans, European-Americans, German-Americans, and Creoles. Currently, the minimum set of categories includes four categories for data on race (American Indian or Alaskan Native; Asian or Pacific Islander, Black; and White) and two categories for data on ethnicity ("Hispanic origin," and "Not of Hispanic origin"). This minimum set is used in all Federal data collections, including the decennial census, which has used an "ancestry" question on the long form to collect additional information on population groups such as those that requested that new categories be established. The review considered, among other matters, legislative needs, definitial issues, the size and geographica concentration of several of these populations, and the feasibility of gathering representative information in all Federal data collections. The Interagency Committee recommended that:

  • There should be no racial or ethnic categories added to the current minimum standard.

Classification of Data on Hawaiians

The Interagency Committee studied the request expressed in public comments to reclassify Native Hawaiians (the descendents of the original inhabitants of what is now the state of Hawaii) in the American Indian and Alaskan Native category so that all indigenous peoples would be in the same category, as well as the request in public comments to classify Native Americans in a separate category. The review focused particularly on the effects a reclassification would have on social and economic data for the respective population groups and on the utility of resulting information for legal and program purposes. The Interagency Committee recommended that:

  • Data on Hawaiians should continue to be classified in the "Asian or Pacific Islander" category.


Research carried out under the auspices of the Interagency Committee also included tests of several suggestions offered in public comment for changing the current names of some categories. These tests were designed to determine respondents' preferences for terminology, their understanding of the meaning of the terms, and whether, and in what ways, any proposed changes in terminology may affect reporting. With respect to terminology, the Interagency Committee recommended that:

  • The name of the "Black" category should be changed to "Black or African American." Additional terms, such as Haitian or Negro may be used.
  • The term "Hispanic" should be retained, but terms such as "Latino" or "Spanish Origin" can also be used.
  • The term "American Indian" should not be changed to "Native American."
  • The term "Hawaiian" should be changed to "Native Hawaiian."

Implementation Schedule The Interagency Committee recommended that these changes and the others that are detailed in Chapter 6 of its report, if adopted by OMB, should be used in the 2000 decennial census, and that all other Federal data collections should conform to the new standards no later than January 1, 2003. The second attachment to my testimony shows the effect on the current standards if OMB were to adopt the Interagency Committee's recommendations.

Comment Process

The recent Federal Register Notice requests comments on the recommendations OMB has received from the Interagency Committee. The set of general principles that has guided this multi-year review, reprinted in Chapter 1 of the Interagency Committee's report, may serve as an aid in evaluating the recommendations. The Interagency Committee developed the principles at the beginning of the Directive 15 review process — a process that has attempted to balance statistical issues, needs for data, social concerns, and the personal dimensions of racial and ethnic identification. The Interagency Committee recognized from the outset that these principles may in some cases represent competing goals for the standard. For example, having categories that are comprehensive in the coverage of our Nation's diverse population (Principle 4) and that would facilitate self-identification (Principle 2) may not be operationally feasible in terms of the burden that would be placed upon respondents and the public and private costs that would be associated with implementation (Principle 8). The following are just a few examples of questions that mght be considered in assessing the recommendations using the general principles:

  • Do the recommendations provide for classifying data on race and ethnicity that are: generally understood and accepted by the public (Principle 3); comprehensive in coverage (Principle 4); and useful for statistical analysis, as well as for Federal statutory and programmatic requirements (Principles 5 and 6)?
  • Are the recommendations based on sound methodological research (Principle 9)?
  • Do the recommendations take into account continuity of historical data series (Principle 10)?

As we receive and evaluate public comment on the recommendations, we should bear in mind that the standards are intended to provide a minimum set of categories that are used throughout the Federal Government for record keeping, collection, and presentation of comparable data on race and ethnicity. The categories are used not only in the decennial census (which provides the "denominator" for many measures), but also in data collections in areas such as school registration, housing assistance, and medical research.

It is also important to recall that the categories for data on race and ethnicity do not identify or designate certain population groups as "minority groups." As the current standard explicity states, the categories are not to be used for determining eligibility of population groups for participation in any Federal programs. Moreover, the standard does not contain criteria or qualifications (such as blood quantum levels) that are to be used in determining a particular individual's racial or ethnic classification. The standard does not tell an individual who he or she is, or specify how an individual should classify himself or herself; self-identification continues to be the preferred means of obtaining data about an individual's race and ethnicity.

The principal objective of the review of the current standards has been to enhance the accuracy of the demographic information collected by the Federal Government by better reflecting the growing diversity of our Nation's population. The starting point for the review was the current minimum set of categories for data on race and ethnicity that have provided information over the past 20 years for a variety of purposes. The review has explicitly recognized the importance of being able to maintain this historical continuity.

I would like to stress that none of the recommendations has been adopted and no interim decisions concerning them have been made. OMB can accept, modify, or reject any of the recommendations, and has the option of making no changes at all in the current standards. OMB believes that the recommendations are worthy of public discussion and that OMB's decision will benefit from obtaining the public's views on them. We are looking forward to recieving comments on any aspects of the Interagency Committee's recommendations, as well as on the extent to which the recommendations are successful in meeting the goals of the governing principles.

As we have stated previously on many occasions, input from the public has been an essential element of the review process. Only with the public's general acceptance and understanding of the Federal categories for data on race and ethnicity are we able to obtain respondents' cooperation in providing information. The Notice invites the public to participate once again in the review process by commenting on the recommendations of the Interagency Committee before OMB reaches a decision.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I would be pleased to answer any questions you may have.


Attachment 1

Classification of Data on Race and Ehtnicity
Review of the Standards — Highlights

July 1993 – OMB committed to a comprehensive review of the standards for the classification of data on race and ethnicity at a Congressional hearing

February 1994 – National Academy of Sciences' Committee on National Statistics convened a workshop of stakeholders, at the request of OMB, to identify issues to be addressed.

March 1994 – OMB established and held the first meeting of the Interagency Committee for the Review of the Racial and Ethnic Standards (more than 30 Federal agencies that use or produce these data)

June 1994 – OMB published a Federal Register notice requesting public comment on (1) the adequacy of the current categories; (2) principles that should govern the review process; and (3) specific suggestions for changes that have been offered by various individuals and organizations

November 1994 – Interagency Committee approved three major survey efforts to research and test significant suggestions for changes

August 1995 – OMB published a Federal Register notice summarizing the public comment received in letters (nearly 800) and testimony, and presented the agenda for conducting research on significant issues

October 1995 – First research test results released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics — May 1995 Current Population Survey Supplement on Race and Ethnicity

December 1996 – Second research test results released by the Bureau of the Census — National Content Survey questions on race and ethnicity

May 1997 – Third research test results released by the Bureau of the Census — Race and Ethnic Targeted Test

May 1997 – Interagency Committee transmitted to OMB its report and recommendations for revising the standards

July 9, 1997 – OMB published in the Federal Register (62 FR 36873 – 36946) the Interagency Committee's recommendations (and accompanying report) to OMB for a 60-day public comment period

Mid-October1997 – OMB will announce its decision on the standards

Attachment 2

Interagency Committee for the Review of the Racial and Ethnic Standards

Recommended Standards

The following shows how the current Federal standards for data on race and ethnicity would be changed if OMB were to adopt the Interagency Committee's recommendations. The recommended changes are presented inbold type.

The minimum categories for data on race and ethnicity for Federal statistics and program administrative reporting are defined as follows:

a. American Indian or Alaska Native. A person having origins in any of the original peoples of North and South America (including Central America), and who maintains cultural identification through tribal affiliation or community recognition.

b. Asian or Pacific Islander. A person having origins in any of the original peoples of the Far East, Southeast Asia, the Indian subcontinent, or the Pacific Islands. This area includes, for example, China, India, Japan, Korea, the Phillipine Islands, Hawaii, and Samoa.

c. Black or African-American. A person having origins in any of the black racial groups or Africa.

d. Hispanic. A person of Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Central or South American or other Spanish culture or origin, regardless of race.

e. White. A person having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, North Africa, or the Middle East.

To provide flexibility and assure data quality, it is preferable to collect data on race and ethnicity separately. When race and ethnicity are collected separately, ethnicity should be collected first. Persons of mixed racial origins can, but are not required to, report more than one race. If race and ethnicity are colleted separately, the minimum designations are:

a. Race:

    –American Indian or Alaska Native
    –Asian or Pacific Islander
    –Black or African-American

b. Ethnicity:

    –Hispanic origin
    –Not of Hispanic origin

When the data are reported, a minimum of one additional racial category, designated "More than one race," must be included, if the criteria for data quality and confidentiality are met, in order to report the aggregate number of multiple race responses. Data producers are encouraged to provide greater detail about the distribution of multiple responses. Terms such as "Haitian" or "Negro" can be used in addition to "Black" and "African-American." Terms such as "Latino" or "Spanish origin" can be used in addition to "Hispanic."

If a combined format must be used to collect racial and ethnic data, both race and ethnicity or multiple races should be collected when appropriate, although the selection of one category will be acceptable. If a combined format is used, the minimum categories are:

    American Indian or Alaska Native Asian or Pacific Islander Black or African-American Hispanic White

When the data are reported, a minimum of two additional categories, designated "Hispanic and one or more races" and "More than one race," must be included if the criteria for data quality and confidentiality are met and both race and ethnicity and multiple races were collected.

In no case should the provisions of this Directive be construed to limit the collection of data to the categories described above. In fact, the collection of subgroup detail is encouraged. However, any reporting required which uses more detail shall be organized in such a way that the additional categories can be aggregated into these minimum categories for data on race and ethnicity.

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