White House issues new federal standards to collect data on race

By Thomson Reuters Mar 28, 2024 | 7:51 AM

By Nandita Bose

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The White House on Thursday announced new standards for collecting federal data on race and ethnicity, a decision that will touch organizations that receive federal funding, determine how congressional districts are drawn and whether equal employment policies can be enforced.

The standards from the White House’s Office of Management & Budget (OMB)- revised for the first time since 1997- requires federal agencies to use one combined question for race and ethnicity, encourages respondents to select multiple options on how they identify and adds Middle Eastern or North African as a new identification category.

The move underscores the government’s attempt to catch up with modern views of racial and ethnic identities in the United States and shows how federal officials are attempting to capture the complexities of a country that has grown more multiracial.

The data they collect is expected to have far-reaching consequences on the U.S. Census, the enforcement of the Voting Rights Act, Fair Housing Act and other anti-discrimination laws.

“Our focus here really is on how do we ensure we have high-quality federal data on race and ethnicity,” a senior OMB official said.

The official added the new standards will identify different impacts on “individuals, programs and services, health outcomes, employment outcomes, educational outcomes…”

The official declined to identify the federal programs this will affect.

The standards were first proposed under former President Barack Obama but were subsequently delayed under the Trump administration.

Since 1997, the U.S. government has distilled terms such as “white,” “black” and “Hispanic” into standardized definitions that have stayed the same since then. This established a base line for federal surveys that ask people to self-report their racial and ethnic identities.

The new standards by the Biden White House require federal agencies to update their surveys and administrative forms, submit a compliance plan within 18 months and comply with the updated standards within five years.

The officials said the decisions were based on the findings of a working group, which comprised of staff from 35 federal agencies, over 20,000 public comments and 94 listening sessions.

The new standards will not impact the issue of repayment for slavery or reparations. The collection of data from Black Americans to determine those who descended from enslaved people requires more research, the officials said.

(Reporting by Nandita Bose in Washington; Editing by Heather Timmons, Kat Stafford, and Aurora Ellis)