March 28th, 2024

Collecting meaningful data is foundational to understanding our communities’ needs. In particular, it informs effective solutions that ensure community access to, and support for, various programs and activities. The federal government’s approach to collecting data on race and ethnicity has rendered many Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities invisible for decades. The last major revision to race and ethnicity standards, which occurred after a directive issued in 1997, mandated only the collection of racial data (often through two checkboxes for Asian and Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders).

Today, we applaud the federal government’s monumental shift to recognize the diversity, strength, and needs of our entire community. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) announced changes to the federal government’s race and ethnicity standards (Special Policy Directive 15, or SPD 15) that will meaningfully help the communities we serve and enable improvements in policies, programs, and investments by government agencies, community-based organizations, and private industry partners alike.

While the updated directive represents important progress, the federal government must strengthen its mechanisms for successful implementation. We urge all federal agencies, including the OMB, to uphold the highest standards of performance, transparency, and accountability under this directive. This includes full compliance with the proposed race and ethnicity standards, and a commitment to routinely improving proposed standards, based on formal and regular input from community experts and scientific experts.

We are focused on four provisions in particular.

First, we applaud OMB’s decision to establish an Interagency Committee on Race and Ethnicity Statistical Standards, and we urge the Committee to play a stronger role in ensuring successful implementation. SPD 15 specifies that the Committee “will maintain and carry out a Government-wide research agenda and undertake regular reviews of SPD 15 … on a 10-year cycle and will include opportunity for public input.” We believe that the Committee needs to play a more significant role in ensuring timely and successful implementation of this policy. Transparency and accountability are crucial to ensuring full compliance with the minimum standards, as well as improvements in performance beyond the minimum standards. As such, we recommend that the Committee engage the public on an annual basis and produce an annual public report on agency compliance and performance improvements with respect to SPD 15.

We also applaud OMB’s requirement that federal agencies collect details beyond the minimum required race and ethnicity categories. This will produce detailed data on specific communities, including Chinese, Asian Indian, Vietnamese, and other Asian American groups; as well as for Native Hawaiian, Samoan, Tongan, Chamorro, and other NHPI groups. In order to maximize opportunities for categorical inclusion beyond the six most populous groups in each racial category, we urge OMB to annually explore improvements in data collection. This could look like requiring the addition of a write-in option with examples, such as Pakistani, Hmong, Afghan, etc., rather than defaulting to a checkbox for “Another group.” We believe that a strengthened role for OMB’s Interagency Committee on Race and Ethnicity Standards will help achieve these improvements in a timely manner.

We appreciate the inclusion of language that each federal agency must develop an “Agency Action Plan for complete compliance” within 18 months, and must establish a 5-year timeline for full implementation.

However, we caution that provisions in the announcement provide substantial flexibility to federal agencies in seeking waivers from OIRA from collecting detailed data. We recommend that OMB be judicious in its approach in granting these waivers, allowing for community input into the waiver request, and ensuring timely, transparent and detailed reporting on the waiver decision and rationale granted by OIRA. We feel strongly that the cost of entire communities being rendered invisible by the federal government clearly outweighs the burden on any agency.

NCAPA and its member organizations are prepared to engage and support OMB, and all other federal agencies, to ensure that regular and meaningful community engagement informs the development of agency action plans over the next 18 months, and full implementation of the revised standards over a 5-year period. We welcome a conversation with OMB and the Interagency Committee on Race and Ethnicity Statistical Standards to ensure that community voices are incorporated into the planning and monitoring process in a timely, effective, and meaningful manner.

“For NCAPA, today serves as a reminder of what is possible when AA and NHPI community groups work together and why our coalition exists. While there remains a tremendous amount of work to ensure OMB’s updates yield the best possible results, it’s important to acknowledge the importance of this decision by the Biden Administration. What was once an aspiration for the AA and NHPI community is now a concrete path towards realizing data equity. This is a moment of great pride that reflects the collective and tireless work of our communities,” said Gregg Orton, National Director of the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans (NCAPA). “NCAPA is far from done with our work on data equity. But today, we applaud the Biden Administration, thank the community leaders who came before us and put us in a position to deliver on this work, and celebrate with our member organizations who had the courage and persistence to ceaselessly advocate for our communities.”

Estella Owoimaha-Church, Executive Director of Empowering Pacific Islander Communities (EPIC), said: “Though Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander (NHPI) communities have been in the US for at least a century, we’ve only been recognized as a distinct racial group for the past 25 years. With only three significant opportunities to be counted, NHPI communities have endured adversity due to the lack of equitable data which continues to negatively impact our communities. It continues to be imperative that self-determination is prioritized by providing racial categories beyond the six most populous groups in addition to a single combined race and ethnicity question, allowing for multiple responses. We welcome the progress made to SPD 15 and commend OMB’s working group for their diligence in gathering community input. We are further encouraged by the Interagency Committee on Race and Ethnicity Standards’ ability to lead on timely improvements to data collection standards and hope for reviews more frequently than 10 year intervals. Our communities cannot afford to wait another quarter-century to be seen or heard.”

“SEARAC thanks the OMB and the Administration for continuously engaging with the Southeast Asian community through the revision process. The revision marks progress for more visibility of the Southeast Asian community, including identifying Vietnamese as one of the detailed communities for data collection, and adding Hmong as an example of another group within the Asian racial category,” said Quyen Dinh, Executive Director of the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC). “We urge the Administration to go further than the guidance by requiring the usage of a write-in option with examples. This would significantly increase the accuracy of data collected on Southeast Asian populations and allow the Administration to better understand the experiences of the numerous smaller communities that call the United States home and aren’t named in the guidance, including Cambodian, Lao, Mien, and so many others.”

“We applaud the federal government for releasing these long-needed revisions for standards that more adequately recognize and honor the diversity, strength and needs of our communities. Today’s announcement represents a vital step forward in the movement for data equity, with particular benefits for the diverse Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities we support through our work,” said Karthick Ramakrishnan, Founder and Executive director of AAPI Data. “One of the key provisions outlined in these revised standards includes the establishment of an Interagency Committee to supervise these efforts. While this is a critical step forward, we strongly urge this body to play a stronger role in ensuring successful implementation of these standards — namely through much more frequent and timely reviews, recommendations for performance improvements, and opportunities for community input beyond the stated 10-year cycles.”


Coalition Member Statements

AAJC: OMB Publishes Revisions to Statistical Policy Directive No. 15

AAPCHO: AAPCHO Applauds the Biden Administration’s Revisions to Collecting Federal Data on Race and Ethnicity

AAPI Data: AAPI Data Celebrates Historic Update to Federal Standards on the Collection of Race & Ethnicity Data

EPIC: EPIC Honors NHPI Advocacy and Commends OMB’s Recent Revisions to SPD 15

NAPAWF: Federal Agency Makes Historic Progress on Data Equity and Collection of Race and Ethnicity Data

National CAPACD: National CAPACD Affirms OMB’s Revisions to Federal Data Collection Standards

OCA: OCA Applauds Historic Federal Data Collection Standards Update

SEARAC:  Southeast Asian Organizations Respond to Revisions to Federal Race and Ethnicity Data Collection and Reporting Standards

Based in Washington, D.C., the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans is a coalition of forty-one national Asian Pacific American organizations. We represent the interests of Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander (AA and NHPI) communities and provide a national voice for our communities’ concerns.