Southeast Asian Organizations Respond to Revisions to Federal Race and Ethnicity Data Collection and Reporting Standards

Significant right step but insufficient for Southeast Asian visibility 

WASHINGTON, DC – Yesterday, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) released its revisions to Statistical Policy Directive No. 15 (SPD-15), which sets the federal minimum standards for how federal agencies maintain, collect, and report race and ethnicity data. This is the first time that these standards have been revised since 1997 and include new updates, such as the creation of the Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) racial category and a combined race and ethnicity question to better collect data on multiracial individuals.

Most important for Southeast Asian American communities, it requires federal agencies to collect minimum race and detailed ethnic data of the following Asian communities:

  • Chinese
  • Asian Indian
  • Filipino
  • Vietnamese
  • Korean
  • Japanese, and
  • Another group (for example, Pakistani, Hmong, Afghan, etc.).

However, with approval from OMB, agencies can choose not to collect data on the ethnic groups above if “agencies determine the additional burden would outweigh the potential benefits of collecting detailed data.”

SEARAC applauds the OMB and the Administration for this revision which marks progress for more visibility of the Southeast Asian community, including identifying Vietnamese as one of the detailed communities for data collection and including the Hmong as an example of another group within the Asian racial category,” said Quyên Đinh, Executive Director of SEARAC. “However, we are disappointed that the regulation doesn’t go further to require the collection of additional Southeast Asian ethnic data, such as the Cambodian, Lao, Mien, and many others, through a write-in option as the default standard. We are also concerned about the option for agencies to opt-out of the requirement to collect detailed race and ethnic data, which would lump all Asian ethnic data under one category. SEARAC and our partners are committed to working with the federal government to ensure that our country goes above and beyond these minimum requirements to make our communities long-standing needs visible.”

Vimala Phongsavanh, Board Chair of the Laotian American National Alliance, said “While this is a step in the right direction for data equity and collection for the Asian American community, we are disappointed that Lao and Laotian Americans continue to be absent from federal required data collection and reporting. Without a writer-in option, data on Lao Americans will continue to be excluded from federal reporting. It should not fall on the shoulders of small community-based organizations to hold federal agencies accountable for accurate data. We urge OMB to provide additional guidance to ensure that the data on smaller communities are collected and reported.”

“We appreciate the robust engagement from OMB and the interagency working group during the process to revise these standards. As a smaller community, it is important that the perspective of the Khmu community was included in the dialogue on these updates,” said Tracie Friedman, President of the Khmu National Federation (KNF). “It is unfortunate that the default standard does not provide stricter requirements for collecting and reporting on the data of Khmu and other similarly sized Southeast Asian populations. In instances like this, it is even more imperative that our communities are visible so that we and the federal government can better understand the needs of our populations. We welcome the opportunity to work closely with OMB and other federal agencies to refine their action plans to ensure data on the Khmu can be collected.”

Seng Yang, Director of the Hmong Cultural Center of Butte County said “the Hmong Cultural Center of Butte County welcomes the inclusion of Hmong as an example in the detailed categories. It is a testament to our collective organizing efforts and will help provide greater visibility for the Hmong. However, visibility is only one part of the solution. We urge federal agencies to ensure that our community’s data, in addition to other Southeast Asian data, are accurately collected by going beyond the default standard in their action plans.

SEARAC will be hosting a webinar on the impact of SPD-15 on Southeast Asian communities on April 11, 2024 at 1 PM PT, 4 PM ET. You can register for the webinar here.