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The International Monetary Fund's New Standards for Economic Statistics

The note below "How U.S. Economic Statistics Comply With the New IMF Standards" and the following article "Standards for the Dissemination of Economic and Financial Statistics" discuss the International Monetary Fund's new standards for data dissemination. Already, 38 countries—including Canada, France, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States—have subscribed to the "Special Data Dissemination Standard."

How U.S. Economic Statistics Comply With the New IMF Standards

In April of this year, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) issued new standards for data dissemination for member countries. The new standards attempt to improve the usefulness of key macroeconomic statistics to policymakers, businesses, and financial market participants by addressing the following issues: Coverage, periodicity, and timeliness; access by the public; integrity; and quality. The new standards are described in the accompanying article, which was presented by John B. McLenaghan, Director of the Statistics Department at the IMF, as a paper at a recent conference on the Accuracy, Timeliness, and Relevance of Economic Statistics./1/

Since these standards were established, the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) has received many inquiries from its customers regarding the genesis of these standards and the implications for key U.S. statistics prepared by BEA and other Government agencies. Although many countries are likely to find the new standards difficult to meet, few changes will be required for the United States. Most of the IMF standards are similar to, and often patterned after, the standards embodied in the U.S. system, as set forth in the U.S. Office of Management and Budget's Statistical Policy Directive No. 3./2/ In all major areas, the United States already complies with the IMF standards./3/

For the United States, the Bureau of the Census, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Department of the Treasury, the Federal Reserve Board, and BEA are responsible for one or more of the data categories covered by the new IMF standards (table 1 in the accompanying article lists these categories); the Office of Management and Budget is responsible for overall coordination of the U.S. submissions.

BEA is responsible for the following data categories: National accounts, general or public sector operations, the balance of payments, and the international investment position. BEA now complies with the IMF standards as follows./4/.

Coverage, periodicity, and timeliness.—BEA provides data for all of the prescribed categories, as well as data for all the prescribed and encouraged components. All these data meet the IMF standards for periodicity and timeliness, as Statistical Policy Directive No. 3 requires the prompt release of data.

Access by the public.—As required by Statistical Policy Directive No. 3, BEA provides advance dissemination of news release schedules and simultaneous release of data to all interested parties at the specified release time. For gross domestic product (GDP) and the balance of payments accounts, which are classified as "principal Federal economic indicators" under the Directive, the data are provided to media and policy officials under embargo conditions 1 hour prior to the public release of the data; this procedure is also consistent with the IMF standard.

Integrity.—BEA conforms to the IMF standards for confidentiality of individual respondents' data, prerelease access by policy officials, separation of policy statements from statistical agency statements, and provision of information on revisions to the official statistics.

Quality.—BEA publishes documentation on the methodologies and source data that are used in producing the principal economic indicators and also provides component detail, reconciliations with related data, and statistical frameworks that support cross-checks and provide assurances of the reasonableness of the indicators. Statistical Policy Directive No. 3 also calls for the publication of data on revisions and for an evaluation of each principal indicator every 3 years.

1. The conference was held at BEA on September 9–11, 1996, and was jointly sponsored by the International Statistical Institute (ISI), The Statistical Office of the European Communities (Eurostat), and BEA. The full conference proceedings are being compiled by the ISI and will be published by BEA in the first half of next year.

2. This directive, "Statistical Policy Directive on Compilation, Release, and Evaluation of Principal Federal Economic Indicators," appeared in the Federal Register 50, no. 186 (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, September 25, 1985): 38,932–34.

3. Minor exceptions relate to the timeliness of the data for the two component series "monthly external position" and "daily 6-month forward exchange rate." The agencies responsible for these series have advised the IMF that they will begin to provide these data within the prescribed time schedule by next year, well before the end of the IMF's 2 1/2-year transition period.

4. A full description of how the United States complies with the new IMF standards is available on the IMF Dissemination Standard Bulletin Board, which is on the Internet at