Official statistics provide an indispensable element in the information system of a society, serving the government, the economy and the public with data about the economic, demographic, social and environmental situation.
—United Nations Statistics Division
Historically, governments have depended on statistics to understand their populations and the resources available to them. Early examples include a census in the Old Testament Book of Numbers for determining military resources; the New Testament's Roman census for taxation; and William the Conqueror's Domesday Book, a census designed to learn about the resources available in the recently conquered Anglo-Saxon lands. All of these are examples of official statistics.
Governments and their administrative arms need official statistics for policy development, implementation, and evaluation. The public at large has similar needs for information to be able to evaluate government policy, to ensure public accountability, and to be adequately informed about social and economic conditions in order to make informed decisions.2
Statisticians play a critical role in the collection, analysis, and reporting of official government statistics. In this chapter, we describe this role. Statisticians engaged in official statistics are typically government employees. There are, in addition, many other statisticians employed by government whose principal ...