The U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) initially developed Statistical Policy Directive No. 15 (SPD 15) in 1977, in cooperation with other Federal agencies, to provide consistent data on race and ethnicity (when aggregated to the minimum reporting categories) throughout the Federal Government, including the decennial census, household surveys, and Federal administrative forms (e.g., benefit application forms). Initial development of this data standard stemmed in large part from Federal responsibilities to enforce civil rights laws.
Since 1977, SPD 15 has been revised one time, resulting in the 1997 Standards for Maintaining, Collecting, and Presenting Federal Data on Race and Ethnicity.
The goals of SPD 15 are to ensure the comparability of race and ethnicity across Federal datasets and to maximize the quality of that data by ensuring that the format, language, and procedures for collecting the data are consistent and based on rigorous evidence. To achieve these goals, SPD 15 provides a minimum set of categories that all Federal agencies must use if they intend to collect information on race and ethnicity, regardless of the collection mechanism (e.g., Federal surveys versus program benefit applications).
For data collected directly from respondents, the current standards require two separate race and ethnicity questions, with the ethnicity question collected first before the race question.
Based on the requirements in the current standards, Figure 1 below illustrates how race and ethnicity questions typically appear on Federal surveys and forms that collect the minimally required categories directly from individuals.