Peters Has Long Pressed for More Accurate Federal Data for this Population
DETROIT, MI – U.S. Senator Gary Peters (MI), Chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, is calling on the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to accept an interagency working group’s recommended revisions to federal standards for collecting data on race and ethnicity. In particular, Peters urged OMB to adopt a recommendation to create a separate response category for people of Middle Eastern or North African (MENA) descent. Current guidance for federal data collection does not contain a separate category for MENA populations. In a letter to OMB Director Shalanda Young, Peters highlighted that a distinct classification for MENA communities in federal data collection standards would help accurately count this population and identify the specific issues they face. It would also ensure the government appropriately allocates resources to address challenges faced by Arab American communities in Michigan and across the nation. Peters also encouraged OMB to continue considering other working group recommendations and public comments as OMB completes revisions to the standards.
“Given that OMB sets the government-wide standards for collecting race and ethnicity data, it is essential that these standards represent the nation’s diversity and allow agencies to best serve every community. The current standards, last updated in 1997, do not ensure fully accurate data on all communities,” wrote Senator Peters. “Adding a MENA category would provide more accurate data and allow the federal government to better serve this population.”
OMB is conducting a formal review to revise the federal standards on race and ethnicity data. Earlier this year, an interagency working group proposed initial recommended revisions to the standards. OMB accepted public comment on the recommendations until February 27, and the review process has also included public listening sessions and town halls. OMB has announced its intention to complete the revisions by summer 2024.
Peters has long pressed for the creation of a distinct classification for MENA communities in federal data collection standards. Since being sworn in as a Senator in 2015, he has asked nominees for OMB and the U.S. Census Bureau about their plans to include a separate category for the MENA community in government-wide data standards, including in the U.S. Census. Michigan is home to the one of the largest Arab American communities in the country. Peters will continue leading efforts to ensure MENA populations are accurately represented in federal data collection processes so the government can more effectively distribute resources to tackle unique challenges faced by this community.
The text of the letter is copied below and available here.
Dear Director Young:
I applaud the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for its continued commitment to revising the federal standards for race and ethnicity data. I write to voice support for this process and urge OMB to adopt recommended revisions expeditiously after the public comment period, including the recommended category for people of Middle Eastern or North African (MENA) descent.
On January 26, 2023, OMB announced initial recommended revisions to its Standards for Maintaining, Collecting, and Presenting Federal Data on Race & Ethnicity, proposed by an expert Interagency Technical Working Group. The proposals included adding a response category for MENA populations and collecting race and ethnicity together in a single question, as well as other recommended improvements. OMB is collecting public comments on these proposals and has announced its intention to complete the revisions by summer 2024. I commend OMB and the Working Group for their robust review process to revise these standards, which has included a thorough review of existing research by the Working Group’s career staff experts, public listening sessions and town halls, and the public comment period.
Given that OMB sets the government-wide standards for collecting race and ethnicity data, it is essential that these standards represent the nation’s diversity and allow agencies to best serve every community. The current standards, last updated in 1997, do not ensure fully accurate data on all communities.
In particular, the standards should be updated to include a separate reporting category for people of MENA descent. Research has shown that the lack of a MENA category in the current standards limits the data available on unique challenges faced by the Arab American population, such as healthcare needs and other disparities. The U.S. Census Bureau has conducted extensive research showing that a MENA category would result in more accurate data for this population. More precise and consistent data are necessary to fully understand and address inequities in housing, economic opportunities, and other civil rights. Adding a MENA category would provide more accurate data and allow the federal government to better serve this population. I commend the Working Group for including the addition of a MENA category in its initial proposals. I urge OMB, after full consideration of public comments, to include a MENA category in its final revisions to the standards.
Accurately reflecting our nation’s diversity will benefit all communities, ensuring government services are effective and accessible. I also encourage OMB to continue considering other Working Group recommendations and public comments that would improve data collection and accuracy, including collecting race and ethnicity information using a combined question, and requiring the collection of detailed race and ethnicity categories by default.
I appreciate OMB’s commitment to a “full, transparent revision process,” guided by public input, with the goal of “ensuring that the standards better reflect the diversity of the American people.” Thank you for considering public comments and continuing public engagement as the Working Group develops its final recommendations, and OMB completes revisions to the standards. I urge you to continue working to finalize these recommendations in a timely manner and adopt important revisions including the MENA category.
Thank you for your consideration.