The Office of Management & Budget Proposes Updates for Reporting Race and Ethnicity Data

Sadie Vermillion

Policy & Research Analyst


In January, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) released proposals for changing Federal Race and Ethnicity Standards. The proposals were advanced by the The Federal Interagency Technical Working Group on Race and Ethnicity Standards (the Working Group). The Working Group includes more than 20 intergovernmental agencies and is comprised of Federal government career staff. Agencies included are those that regularly work with Tribes such as the Department of the Interior, the Department of Justice, the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Health and Human Services. 

The proposed changes aim to improve the quality and value of federal race and ethnicity data. The proposals would revise OMB's 1997 Statistical Policy Directive No. 15: Standards for Maintaining, Collecting, and Presenting Federal Data on Race and Ethnicity and would hope to provide minimum standards meant to ensure the ability to compare information and data across Federal agencies. The proposed changes include, among others:

  • Collecting data on race and ethnicity together within a single question;

  • Changing the American Indian or Alaska Native minimum category description to include all individuals who identify with any of the original peoples of North, Central, and South America;”

  • Adding the phrase “who maintain Tribal affiliation or community attachment” in the American Indian or Alaska Native definition; and

  • Adding a space for self-identifying Tribal affiliation. 

Accurate and genuine data of U.S. population groups is crucial to informing necessary policy, directions of research and overall public understandings. Inadequate data creates inadequate support of individual population group needs. While these changes aim to gather correct data on identities in the U.S., there is concern that their approach will only continue trends of ignoring unique American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) identity characteristics and inherent Tribal sovereignty principles, consequently continuing to produce inaccurate data on AI/AN populations. 

First, although the AI/AN population category is the only census-defined racial category that is concurrently considered a political entity, the proposed changes do not directly address this. Instead, AI/AN identities are lumped together with other population groups solely in the “racial” identification category. Classification of AI/AN peoples solely as a “race” rather than also sovereign Native Nations that have maintained a unique government-to-government relationship with the United States since its inception will cause continued misunderstandings pertaining to AI/AN identities and the inherent civil and political right that accompany it. We are currently seeing a direct consequence of this in the Supreme Court Case, Haaland v. Brackeen. In contrast, supplying an AI/AN identity option outside of the racial category to collect data would allow for the separation between understandings of AI/AN peoples as simply connected to race and would give an accurate picture of Tribal data. 

Second, the collection of this data will continue to be through self-reporting, as opposed to meeting the individual sovereign standards each of the 574 Federally Recognized Tribes require in order to be legally considered a Tribal citizen. If the race and ethnicity categories adhered to requirements upheld by sovereign Native Nations in order to correctly identify as AI/AN, it would ensure more accurate data on Tribal populations and maintain data sovereignty, or the inherent right of Tribes to govern the collection, ownership, and application of its own data. 

Finally, the OMB’s proposed changes could increase the number of AI/AN individuals who identify as two or more races. Lumping larger amounts of the AI/AN community into the “two or more” race category as opposed to protecting the accuracy of the nuances in AI/AN populations by breaking down their identity groups fails to take into account individualized trends. This will continue the skewing of data and further the misunderstandings of different AI/AN populations’ unique experiences and support requirements. 

The above concerns regarding the miscollection of Tribal data could cause mistakes in research, create flawed policy initiatives and continue negative and misinformed conceptions about the AI/AN population. Regardless of the final outcomes of changes to the OMB’s race and ethnicity standards, it is necessary for the Federal government to take into account the unique AI/AN identity characteristics and inherent Tribal sovereignty principles when they collect information on AI/AN identities. This is the singular path to factual data on Tribal Nations and comprehensive support for their communities. 

The updates to OMB’s Race and Ethnicity Standards are set to be complete by Summer 2024 and would take effect for the 2030 census. The OMB has extended the public comment period on these proposed changes to April 27, 2023. For more information on how to submit public comments, view the original Federal Register Notice and Request for comments on the Initial Proposals For Updating OMB's Race and Ethnicity Statistical Standards. To view already submitted public written comments, please visit the comment docket. Additionally, recordings of the OMB Town Hall meetings on the proposed changes can be viewed here

AIPI will continue to release information on the OMB’s proposals for revising the Federal Race and Ethnicity Standards as it becomes available. 

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