Data Release Policy

National Center for Health Statistics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Timing Considerations in the Release of Data to Collaborators, Co-sponsors, and the Public Policy Statement Adopted April 24, 2000


The mission of NCHS is to provide statistical information that will guide actions and policies to improve the health of the American people. As the Nation’s principal health statistics agency, NCHS is responsible for collecting accurate, relevant, and timely data. NCHS’ mission, and those of its counterparts in the Federal statistics system, focuses on the collection, analysis, and dissemination of information that is of use to a broad range of users.

All data collected by NCHS are collected under the authority of Section 306 of the Public Health Service Act. This section specifically references the timely release of data and mandates that data be made available on as wide a basis as is practicable.

Underlying NCHS’ mission and legislative mandate is the concept that data collected with public funds — or under the auspices of a public agency — are considered to be a “public good.” The primary considerations on the timely release of NCHS data are 1) protecting the confidentiality of respondents; 2) the availability of resources required to create public-use files and tabulations; and 3) data quality, analytic, or data processing issues that may limit the ability to make public-use data and/or tabulations available.

NCHS works closely with a variety of collaborators under its reimbursable work program, authorized by Section 306(b)(4). These include other Federal agencies, States, and private nonprofit entities. These collaborators often fund all, or part, of survey activities that are carried out by NCHS.

The relationship between NCHS and its collaborators is — and should be — mutually supportive. NCHS relies on collaborators not only for funding but often for expertise in identifying survey content, editing and processing of survey results, and analysis and interpretation of resulting data. Collaborators rely on NCHS expertise in survey development and management and on NCHS’ help in preparing for and conducting analyses of data; they frequently build on ongoing NCHS surveys.

Policy Statement

  1. Public-use data files will be released as soon as they have been prepared and the necessary reviews and approvals have been obtained, including review by the NCHS Disclosure Review Board.

    Depending on interest and expertise, NCHS may enlist the assistance of collaborators (including funding agencies) in the process of preparing data for public release, including editing and re-coding and on final file structure. To the extent that it is necessary to accomplish these steps, NCHS may provide a collaborator with data that are not yet released to the public. Any such release of files that are not yet ready for public release to a collaborator must be permissible under NCHS confidentiality policy and be consistent with NCHS legislative authority, informed consent, and submissions for human subjects reviews. Such releases are normally carried out under an agreement specifying how appropriate confidentiality protections are to be provided by the collaborator.

  2. NCHS does not “embargo” data that are otherwise ready for public release and does not provide collaborators with preferential early access to data files or tabulations that are otherwise ready for public release, nor provide preferential release of tabulations based on data files that have not been publicly released.

    In cases where nonpublic data are made available to one user, it should be considered releasable to others who might request the same data, subject only to confidentiality provisions. Files or tabulations that might not be approved for public release due to the risk of disclosing confidential data may be made available in the NCHS Data Center (or, where consistent with NCHS confidentiality policy, through special use agreements) to ensure the widest possible access to the data. In a limited number of cases, such as for Departmental publications with lengthy publication lead times, tabulations may be made available in advance of a general data release.

Exceptions to this general policy will be rare and can be justified on a case-by-case basis. Requests should be made prior to the onset of data collection. They should be submitted to the NCHS Confidentiality Officer and will require the approval of the Director, NCHS.