U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

History of Statistical Policy Directive No. 15

1977’s Race and Ethnic Standards for Federal Statistics and Administrative Reporting

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

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).

1997’s Standards for Maintaining, Collecting, and Presenting Federal Data on Race and Ethnicity

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.

  • For the question “Are you Hispanic or Latino?”, the minimum reporting categories are:

    1. Hispanic or Latino: A person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin, regardless of race. The term, “Spanish origin,” can be used in addition to “Hispanic or Latino.”
    2. Not Hispanic or Latino

    Note that Hispanic or Latino respondents may be of any race, and multiple responses to the ethnicity question are not permitted. Also, note that SPD 15 currently lists “Cuban” two times.

  • For the question and instructions “What is your race? < ‘Mark’ or ‘Select’ > one or more”, the minimum reporting categories are:

    1. American Indian or Alaska Native: A person having origins in any of the original peoples of North and South America (including Central America), and who maintains tribal affiliation or community attachment.
    2. Asian: A person having origins in any of the original peoples of the Far East, Southeast Asia, or the Indian subcontinent including, for example, Cambodia, China, India, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippine Islands, Thailand, and Vietnam.
    3. Black or African American: A person having origins in any of the black racial groups of Africa. Terms such as “Haitian” or “Negro” can be used in addition to “Black or African American.”
    4. Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander: A person having origins in any of the original peoples of Hawaii, Guam, Samoa, or other Pacific Islands.
    5. White: A person having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa.

    The 1997 revision of SPD 15 gave respondents the opportunity to report multiple races.

Example Question Format

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.

Figure 1. 1997 SPD 15’s Two-Questions Format for Self-Response