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From the tax data that workers submit every year, to the census data households provide every decade, to the unemployment numbers that reveal the state of the economy each month, the data the US government collects is a reflection of the lives of the American people. It speaks to the nation’s collective values and priorities and even surfaces people’s concerns.

Government data is more than just a set of numbers; it’s an intimate portrait of the American people.

This is part of the reason USAFacts relies on government data: these facts and figures not only reveal unbiased truths about how the US government works, they can give US residents insight into how the government affects their lives and communities.

What is government data?

There are over 400 US federal agencies and sub-agencies, according to the Office of the Federal Register, which keeps a full list of these organizations and publishes a daily record of the public documents issued by each group.

From the largest departments (e.g., the Department of Defense employs around 2 million active duty, reserves, and civilians) to the smaller agencies (e.g., the Marine Mammal Commission employs 14 staffers), each organization collects and distributes data on how they spend their time and taxpayer dollars.

Some agencies, such as the Census Bureau and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), focus on collecting and analyzing data specifically about the American people. For example, the CDC’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System is an ongoing survey of the US population regarding health-related behaviors, chronic health conditions, and use of preventative services. This data can help inform state and federal policies and ideally be a resource for helping communities promote health and wellness.

Most government data is collected by career agency statisticians who work independently from one administration to the next. While no practice is perfect, we at USAFacts believe using government data is the best source for verifiable information about the United States.

How should people use government data?

Data can inform what actions people need to take to improve their lives, from deciding who to vote for to evaluating which nonprofit or community organization to donate to.

Data-driven decision-making, both on an individual level and for policy makers, is a key part of one’s civic responsibility.

But evaluating data can be intimidating. USAFacts is trying to make it easier for people to access and analyze numbers and view trends for themselves.

For our part, we provide deep dives into government data to increase the likelihood that people are aware of the data, able to understand it, and better equipped to use it to inform their decision-making. USAFacts data reports and articles make government data accessible so people can incorporate trusted facts into their education, conversations, and decision-making processes.

For example, the annual State of the Union in Numbers provides a clear, data-based national assessment of the most commonly addressed issues in the president’s State of the Union address. USAFacts provides topical figures spanning over a dozen pressing issues in American life with easy-to-consume text and visuals so that people can judge the US economy or the state of immigration for themselves.

Americans deserve unbiased facts straight from the government to have serious, reasoned, and informed debate. The data may reveal a fact they hadn't considered. It may add context and nuance to a complex issue. It may even get them to change their minds.

Why is government data so valuable?

The US government has data that other entities simply can’t collect. The government is either the source of data itself or it is the most complete source of data because it collects and collates data across states and agencies.

Only the government can answer a question about itself, such as: How long does it take to process a Social Security disability benefits application? The Social Security Administration, the government agency responsible for determining eligibility and administering these benefits, is the source for the answer.

And when it comes to certain kinds of information, only the government has the resources to collect the most comprehensive set of data. Take crime data from police departments across the country. That data is filtered through the FBI. When processed, it can reveal trends about communities that may require action from local leaders.

What role does USAFacts play in providing access to government data?

USAFacts was founded to be a bridge between the public and government data. By giving people greater access to government data — presenting it using plain language with helpful visualizations — USAFacts empowers everyday Americans to act as watchdogs for the issues that affect their lives.

All residents are all stakeholders in the United States. USAFacts believes if the American people want to know how the government is serving them, they have to look at the data that's coming from the source.

Learn more about analyzing data by reading our five questions you should ask when looking at data and subscribe to our newsletter for weekly roundups.