The Agricultural Statistics Board exemplifies the care NASS exercises to safeguard the integrity of the estimates.
Production forecasts for corn, wheat, cotton, soybeans, and oranges are defined by law as speculative because they are traded on commodity markets. Anyone having early access to this information would have an obvious advantage in trading, so the Agricultural Statistics Board goes to great lengths to prevent it.
The SSO's transmit data and comments on speculative commodities to the secretary of the Agricultural Statistics Board through the NASS computer system and special encoding equipment. Upon transmission, the encoded data are saved on diskettes, which are placed in pouches and locked in a safe. The files are then purged from the system.
NASS employees prepare the official estimates in rooms that are kept locked and guarded by officers stationed outside in the hallways. Opaque vinyl shades with steel reinforcers are drawn over windows and sealed to prevent unauthorized observation. All telephones are disconnected, and computer systems are secured against tampering. The lockup area is monitored to detect the presence of electronic surveillance equipment. Once they have entered the area, employees preparing the report are prohibited from leaving the area or contacting anyone outside until the report has been released. Copies of the report are printed within the lockup area.
After the lockup area has been secured, the diskettes are removed from the safe and the files are decrypted. Analysts review the survey data and SSO recommendations to determine national and State estimates.
NASS also observes strict security precautions for reports dealing with nonspeculative commodities. The analysts work on these reports in restricted areas, and only those directly involved in report preparation are permitted access to the information.
No unauthorized person has access to the data or analysis of a report before it is issued. Not even the Secretary of Agriculture knows a report's contents until entering the lockup area to sign it just before release.
The Board presents its reports in printed and electronic form to the waiting public and press, adhering to a schedule announced at the beginning of each year.
Last modified: 11/17/08