HHS Plan for Integration of Surveys. The Issue


HHS has a considerable investment in surveys and other data systems to support broad analytic and program objectives. These range from monitoring of the population and health system, to supporting biomedical, epidemiological, and health services research, to supporting the management and evaluation of HHS programs. Data from these surveys serve as the analytic base for formulating policy, modeling the impact of proposed changes in programs, and evaluating the impact of policies over time.

The operation of surveys is decentralized throughout HHS, with limited central strategic planning and direction. As a result, there are overlaps with respect to populations of interest, analytic capabilities, sample and questionnaire designs, and collection efforts. These overlaps sometimes place undue burdens on survey respondents, and there is a large "opportunity cost" in terms of lost analytic benefit. Despite HHS' large investment, there are still major gaps in information to assess the health status of the population, determinants to health, risks to health, and the functioning of the public health system, and lack the ability to analytically relate data across these areas. And it is clear that the data on health care costs and expenditures, which are collected in detail only every 10 years, are inadequate to understand and effectively model health care access, utilization, insurance coverage and health care costs on an ongoing basis.

HHS has targeted the improvement of the analytic capacity of HHS programs, the filling of major data gaps, and establishment of a survey consolidation framework in which HHS data activities are streamlined and rationalized. A detailed plan was developed as part of Reinventing Government Part II, and is currently being implemented. The National Center for Health Statistics (CDC) and the Agency for Health Care Policy and Research have key leadership roles in this initiative.