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Advisory Council on Transportation Statistics

Members Present
Michael Walton – Chair
Leanne Depue
Barbara Faumeni
Hermann Habermann
Paul Jovanis
David Lee
Michael Replogle
Joe Schofer

Members Not Present
Alicia Carriquiry

Noted Visitors
Steve Pierson - American Statistical Association
Alan Pisarski – consultant
Tom Palmerlee - Transportation Research Board

  • Agenda and Outline of the Meeting – Conducted by Chair, Michael Walton
    • Introductions by Chair Michael Walton
    • Completed an overview of agenda items
  • Review of Action Items from Last Meeting
    • BTS Deputy Director, Rolf Schmitt discussed action items from the ACTS meeting in April 2014 and their status. His slide presentation is attached.
    • The Close Calls Reporting Program will be scheduled for the next ACTS meeting in Spring 2015.
    • The working strategic plan was distributed to ACTS members for review.
    • Herman Habermann suggested an open forum of federal agencies, stakeholders, and IT technology providers for a conversation about Big Data issues. BTS agreed to work with the Committee on National Statistics and the Federal Committee on Statistical Methods to examine methodological and institutional issues related to Big Data.
  • Update on Integration
    • Ellen Partridge, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Research & Technology (OST-R), presented an update on the integration of BTS to the Office of the Secretary and discussed the importance of making sure that BTS continues to function effectively as a principal Federal Statistical Agency. BTS management order to accomplish this is being reviewed.
    • The OST-R organization chart is still under review, but all program offices remain the same. None of the proposed changes to the organizational structure will affect BTS directly, and no changes are proposed in the OST-R mission. The responsibility of BTS Director in serving as the senior statistical advisor to the Secretary of DOT has become more important than ever.
    • The DOT Secretary has an initiative to improve bicycle and pedestrian safety. BTS is working with the Office of the Chief Information Officer to look at different sources of data.
    • ACTS members expressed the importance of uniform approaches to state and local collections of bicycle and pedestrian data. They emphasized standardization of data collection to develop authoritative statistics for the country as a whole. Ellen noted that a pilot effort by the states is underway, and promised to pass along suggestions to the DOT working group that oversees the pilots.
    • Action Item: BTS should discuss bike/pedestrian issues with the National Association of City Transportation Officials to distill statistical wisdom and share best practices.
    • The BTS strategic plan provides an opportunity for BTS to articulate its role to OST and the Secretary.
    • ACTS members asked if BTS has adequate data to support performance measurement. BTS noted that it is waiting for negotiations between the Department and the states to finalize the performance measures for the states to submit.  In the meantime, BTS is focusing on measures from the user perspective as presented in the Transportation Statistics Annual Report. ACTS members discussed the role BTS can play in assisting states to understand and fill data gaps in meeting federal reporting requirements.
    • BTS was urged to look at other data reporting systems, especially for collecting and integrating activity-related data.
    • BTS has a challenge in balancing specific initiatives such as the bike/pedestrian initiative with major, long term data needs such as the lack of data on long distance travel and regional travel by passengers.
    • ACTS members discussed the importance of monitoring freight border crossings as part of measuring global value chains. Global value chains, and freight and passenger flows will be part of the next North American Transportation Statistics (NATS) Interchange.  BTS has invited the Bureau of Economic Analysis to participate in the next Interchange.
    • BTS noted that a strategic focus is on improving the process of creating over 200 tables in National Transportation Statistics (NTS) and the quality of those tables. The effort does not result in new products, but may reveal issues that need to be addressed.  The challenge is how BTS balances the quality of the existing products and the production of new products. ACTS members responded that BTS priorities should be based on an understanding of how the data will be used.  For example, the top priority for the State of Missouri would be safety, economic investment, and mobility choices.
    • Action Item: BTS should examine how the University of Minnesota is measuring accessibility.
  • SWOT Discussion
    • The slides presented by BTS Director Patricia Hu are attached. Director Hu pointed out that one of BTS’ strengths stems from its mandate which is clear, relevant, and relatively unchanged over time.  That said, the “unchanged” nature of the mandate presents a challenge for BTS in that while the mandate remains stable, the resource has been stagnant for the past ten years. Also discussed were weaknesses and the need to continue focusing product development on cross-modal issues, such as the Freight Facts and Figures and Passenger Travel Facts and Figures.
    • Action Item: Send ACTS members copies of the Facts and Figures report.
    • Action Item: Consider ISO standards on sustainable community indicators.
    • The lack of a single Congressional oversight committee for the Bureau’s budgetary issues is both a problem and an advantage. Reauthorization is an opportunity to improve the Bureau’s visibility on the Hill.
    • Action Item: Develop and discuss strategies for protecting and enhancing the BTS brand and for managing the information technology line of business across statistical agencies with the Interagency Council on Statistical Policy.
    • Action Item: Develop statistical profiles of individual states to attract Congressional interest.
    • ACTS members discussed opportunities for data collaboration.
    • ACTS members emphasized the importance of a BTS management order to clarify the review process. BTS is coordinating its management order with the proposed Statistical Policy Directive from the Office of Management and Budget.
    • All members received a copy of the most recent strategic plan for review. It includes the short-term priorities, which focus on product development and improvement of product quality. BTS will focus on new data collection and data analysis for the next three years.
  • Stakeholder Interactions
    • Steve Pierson presented on the activities that the American Statistical Association (ASA) has done in support of BTS. ASA engaged several other organizations to cosign a letter, making the case for increased BTS funding. His major challenge was to make Hill staffers understand the implications of declining BTS budget. For example, without timelier and better transportation data economic development opportunities will be lost, investment decisions will be ill-informed, and governments will function less optimally.
    • Since many transportation issues are local, BTS publications that feature local transportation are important. State DOT’s are not aware or have little understanding of BTS resources.  More outreach is necessary.
    • Even though BTS data are being used by many staffers, the Hill has low awareness of BTS products. Staffers often ask whether BTS data serve mainly non-Federal rather than Federal needs.
    • Action Item: BTS leadership should meet with the Hill staff to put a face on BTS.
    • Action Item: BTS leadership should make presentations to the AASHTO and TRB Executive Committees.
    • Action Item: Dr. Michael Walton will work with the ACTS members and friends to organize a consistent BTS message. He asked ACTS members to think about what they can do and who they can reach out to across Congressional committees.
  • Preserving and Accessing Information: BTS Role
    • Amanda Wilson from the BTS National Transportation Library (NTL) gave a presentation on the MAP-21 mandate. She described the distinctions and the increasing resource requirements from being a clearinghouse (i.e., links only) to a depository (i.e., having copies) to an archive (i.e., preserve and curate) to a data warehouse.
    • Ms. Wilson discussed results from web-based customer satisfaction surveys. The level of satisfaction of BTS customers in using the Bureau’s website is 66 percent, which is lower than most statistical agencies. BTS continues to work with OST-R IT office to improve data visibility, accessibility and navigation of BTS website.  Bureau’s recently hired Technology Officer will spearhead the interaction with OST-R IT.
    • Action Item:  For novice users, BTS will consider the development of a web interface that asks users of binary questions to facilitate content search - similar to the Siri application. More hand-holding would be useful.
    • ACTS members discussed the responsibility of ensuring the quality of the data from other sources that BTS publishes on the web. ACTS members agreed that BTS becomes the owner of data from other sources that are used in BTS compilations such as National Transportation Statistics. However, BTS is not responsible for data in an archive.  Ownership of data in an archive needs to be clearly stated.
    • Action Item: BTS should discuss with other federal statistical agencies on how data ownership issue is handled. 
    • ACTS members advised BTS to be careful with requests from universities to remove documents from the NTL collection. BTS should develop the criteria for document removal.  Upon receiving a request on document removal, BTS should understand the rationale for the request and proceed accordingly.
    • Action Item: Work with other statistical agencies to share and leverage Information Technology resources and know-how.
  • Major Initiatives: Restoration of the Vehicle Inventory & Use Survey
    • Joy Sharp, Director of BTS Office of Survey Programs, presented an update on re-establishing the Vehicle Inventory and Use Survey (VIUS) and options to fill related data gaps.
    • The task for planning the VIUS restoration has been awarded to Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and the kick-off meeting between ORNL and the Federal Working Group will be in November 2014.
    • OMB approval takes a minimum of 6 months.
    • A parallel effort at the Transportation Research Board will investigate similar strategies to capture vehicle inventory data.
  • Discussion of Research Priorities
  • Current BTS research priorities include:
    • Restoration of VIUS;
    • Hybrid estimation of long distance travel, possibly using unstructured data;
    • Methods and data for measuring value of transportation, and
    • Statistics on the total expenditures and investments in transportation.
  • A major challenge in developing estimates from hybrid data sources and approaches is the estimation of potential errors.
  • Public Comments and Wrap-Up
    • There were no statements offered by the public.
  • Chairman Walton thanked the participants.

1Statistical Policy Directive No. 1: Fundamental Responsibilities of Federal Statistical Agencies and Recognized Statistical Units became effective on December 2, 2014.

Statistical Policy Directive No. 1: Fundamental Responsibilities of Federal Statistical Agencies and Recognized Statistical Units became effective on December 2, 2014.

Updated: Wednesday, February 14, 2018