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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Government Statistics Resources


Q: What is a federal statistical agency?
A: A federal statistical agency is a component of the federal government whose principal function is the compilation and analysis of data and the dissemination of information for statistical purposes.

Q: Where can I find more information on official U.S. government statistics?
A: Please use the links below to explore additional statistical information.

Measuring Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI)

These FAQs on Measuring SOGI are also available as a PDF download (146 KB) .

Q: Why is understanding sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) important in the United States?
A: Researchers, policymakers, and other individuals have expressed an interest in better understanding the prevalence and experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and other sexual and gender minorities—the LGBTQI+ population—in the United States. Those interested in the topic recognize the importance of objective data to inform program and policy discussions related to diversity, equity, and inclusion.

On 15 June 2022, President Biden issued Executive Order 14075 (Executive Order on Advancing Equality for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Intersex Individuals). Section 11 (“Promoting Inclusive and Responsible Federal Data Collection Practices”) established a subcommittee on SOGI data within the federal Interagency Working Group on Equitable Data. The subcommittee developed and released a Federal Evidence Agenda on LGBTQI+ Equity, to inform the development of SOGI Data Action Plans across federal agencies. The executive order also directed the Chief Statistician of the United States to issue recommendations for agencies on the best practices for the collection of SOGI data on federal statistical surveys.

Q: What role does NCSES play in measuring and understanding sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI)? 
A: NCSES is a federal principal statistical agency responsible for measuring and reporting on the condition and progress of the U.S. science and engineering (S&E) enterprise. It conducts over a dozen nationally representative data collections on various targeted populations, including those with an undergraduate or doctorate education in S&E fields and the nation’s doctorate workforce. 

As part of its responsibility to provide objective data on the S&E enterprise, NCSES is exploring the inclusion of SOGI questions on its surveys. This exploration will shed light on the feasibility of collecting reliable data on sexual and gender minorities educated or employed in S&E fields.

Q: Why can’t NCSES just ask current survey respondents about their sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI)? 
A: NCSES is committed to providing information that is objective and transparent, adhering to all directives and standards set forth by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). OMB has issued recommendations on best practices for the collection of SOGI data on federal statistical surveys. To that end, NCSES is taking a measured approach to adding questions concerning SOGI to its surveys in alignment with the recommendations. The goal is to appropriately balance the agency’s mission and programmatic goals while ensuring data quality, reducing respondent burden, protecting confidentiality, and meeting data user needs. 

Other important considerations in NCSES’s planning efforts for SOGI include investigating the utility, representation, and presentation of SOGI data. For example, SOGI questions may introduce (1) potential changes to survey designs and data collection techniques to accurately estimate SOGI in the population while ensuring the privacy and confidentiality of respondents, (2) implications for small sample or population counts for science and engineering education and workforce measures, and (3) potential disruptions to trend data patterns due to modifying gender reporting categories.  

Learn more about NCSES’s commitment to scientific integrity, quality, and transparency. 

Q: How does NSCES conduct research to assess whether it can deliver trusted, objective data on sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI)? 
A: As a principal statistical agency, NCSES follows federal Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Standards and Guidelines for Statistical Surveys to assemble reasonable evidence that questions asked on NCSES surveys demonstrate quality and utility. Other important principles that guide OMB's approval of collecting SOGI measures include minimization (i.e., collecting the minimum level of detail necessary to meet planned uses), inclusivity and sensitivity (i.e., using appropriate and respectful language), privacy, consistency (i.e., in data collections, as well as data governance across an agency), and compliance (i.e., making sure the agency has the statutory authority to collect SOGI data).
NCSES also actively engages across the federal statistical system and other federal partners, including the Federal Committee on Statistical Methodology’s working group on measuring SOGI to collectively address issues surrounding the collection and availability of SOGI data on federal surveys.

Finally, NCSES conducts a wide array of research projects to explore SOGI data collection efforts and data use (see research activity highlighted below).  

Q: What exploratory research is NCSES conducting to assess the feasibility of adding new or changing existing SOGI questions on NCSES surveys?
A: NCSES conducts and collaborates on several SOGI-related exploratory projects to help inform data collection and data use. These ongoing efforts are important to ensure the validity, reliability, utility, and confidentiality of the data prior to survey implementation and to inform program development and public policy.

Below is a snapshot of completed, current, or planned research in this area. 

a) Bridge Panels for the NCSES National Survey of College Graduates and the NCSES National Training, Education, and Workforce Survey (Completed)
The goal of these bridge panels was to introduce SOGI questions into two existing NCSES surveys (the National Survey of College Graduates and the National Training, Education, and Workforce Survey) in a non-production setting to understand the prevalence of sexual and gender minorities in the college-educated population and skilled technical workforce. Official estimates will not be derived from this task. This work helped to identify gaps or anomalies in these data collections, including nonresponse, missing data, and respondent breakoffs. Bridge panel analysis results can be found here.

b) Cognitive Interviews for the NCSES Survey of Earned Doctorates (SED) (Completed)
The goal of these interviews was to assess question wording options, question comprehension, and sensitivities to collecting SOGI information from doctorate recipients and potentially releasing the information to academic institutions. The project also aimed to understand how temporary visa holders interpreted and answered SOGI questions.

c) Experiment in the 2024 NCSES Survey of Earned Doctorates (SED) (Completed)
In the 2024 Survey of Earned Doctorates (SED), NCSES conducted an experiment to compare several versions of SOGI questions to determine which wording yielded the most accurate and usable data. The experiment also assessed the sensitivity of the proposed SOGI questions and the concerns respondents might have about answering these questions. Results of this experiment can be found here.

d) Cognitive Testing for the 2024 and 2025 NCSES and Census Annual Business Survey (ABS) (Partially Completed)
The Annual Business Survey (ABS) is an establishment survey with questions about owner demographics. As a result, respondents may be answering questions about colleagues or supervisors. The 2024 ABS implemented cognitive testing to ask respondents and possibly proxy respondents about the sexual orientation and gender identity of business owners. As part of the 2024 ABS, online cognitive testing was also conducted on the topic of sexual
orientation and gender identity. To explore the feasibility of adding SOGI questions to the 2025 ABS, focus groups were conducted to collect feedback on the questions, targeting question wording, usability, and respondent perspectives.

e) Experiment in the NCSES National Training, Education, and Workforce Survey (NTEWS) (Planned)
NCSES is proposing to conduct an experiment to test two sets of SOGI questions for the general population in the upcoming cycle of the National Training, Education, and Workforce Survey (NTEWS). The first set draws from OMB’s Recommendations on Best Practices for the Collection of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Data on Federal Statistical Surveys. The second set comes from the forthcoming 2024 National Postsecondary Student Aid Survey (NPSAS:24) from the Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). Analysis from this experiment will be used for research purposes to inform the feasibility of adding specific SOGI questions on future cycles of the NTEWS.

Q: What other types of research projects relevant to SOGI does NCSES conduct?
A: f) Amazon's Mechanical Turk (MTurk) for experimentation with the NCSES National Survey of College Graduates (Completed)
This project included survey methodological experiments to explore whether different ways of asking about sexual identity and gender identity in the college-educated population affected estimates and response distributions. The results from this project informed the question wording used on subsequent exploratory research projects including the NSCG bridge panel.

g) Asking about Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) in the Spanish-Speaking Community (Current)
This project, conducted in collaboration with the Census Bureau, aims to explore the effectiveness of Spanish translation of SOGI questions on federal surveys to ensure that accurate statistics are derived. To date, focus groups have been conducted with monolingual Spanish speakers to obtain general reactions to terms, existing measures, and being asked about identities in surveys. Results from focus groups will be used to inform upcoming cognitive interviews aimed at providing a deeper examination of the population of interest.

h) Sexual Harassment and Discrimination in the Science and Engineering Enterprise (Completed)
The goal of this project was to create detailed implementation plans for measuring the incidence and impact of sexual harassment in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) workforce and educational system, including sexual and gender minorities in STEM fields and occupations. A literature review and focus groups were conducted to better understand sexual harassment and how to measure it. The resulting implementation plan will be executed to develop measures of sexual harassment.

Q: What NCSES surveys currently include or plan to include questions related to sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI)? When will the first SOGI data collected by these surveys be available?
A: i) NCSES’s National Survey of College Graduates (NSCG) (Current)
The 2023 National Survey of College Graduates (NCSG) includes two new questions that measure sex at birth and gender identity. These data will be available in early 2025.

 j) NCSES’s Survey of Earned Doctorates (SED) (Planned)
Based on experimental results in the 2024 Survey of Earned Doctorates (SED), NCSES is proposing to add questions on sex at birth, gender identity, and sexual orientation to the SED in a manner that ensures the confidentiality and privacy of respondents and their responses. If approved by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), these SOGI questions would be included in the 2025 SED data collection effort that begins in June 2024.

Q: How does NCSES protect respondent privacy and minimize disclosure risk? Why is this important?
A: As a principal statistical agency, NCSES adheres to federal laws, directives, and standards to use the information it collects for statistical purposes only, to protect respondent privacy, and to maximize data quality. The confidentiality laws that NCSES strictly follows include the National Science Foundation Act of 1950, the Privacy Act of 1974, and the 2018 reauthorization of the Confidential Information Protection and Statistical Efficiency Act, among others.

NCSES regularly employs privacy-preserving methods and conducts research to ensure avoidance of intentional or unintentional disclosure of person-level sensitive or confidential information. This includes, but is not limited to, information such as sexual orientation, gender identity, or other unique identifiers that could be used to target a respondent’s identity or livelihood.

NCSES is committed to building and sustaining trust among the public and data providers by protecting respondent privacy and minimizing disclosure of personally identifying or other sensitive information. Following the National Academy of Science’s report, Principles and Practices for a Federal Statistical Agency, fostering trust among the public and data providers is a key principle that NCSES adheres to as a statistical agency. This practice ultimately leads to greater data quality.  

Q: What other federal activities and efforts inform the measuring and understanding of sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI)? 
A: In addition to conducting internal research to help inform the potential addition of SOGI-related questions to its national surveys, NCSES actively collaborates with other federal statistical agencies through the Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, and Sex Characteristics Subcommittee of the Federal Committee on Statistical Methodology (FCSM) to explore best practices of measuring SOGI in the context of federal information collections. 

The Census Bureau, a federal statistical agency and partner to NCSES, continues to test and monitor the performance of SOGI questions on its surveys and data products, including the experimental Household Pulse Survey (HPS) and the publishing of a Federal Register notice asking for public comment on a proposed test of SOGI questions on the American Community Survey (ACS). More information on the work of the Census Bureau around SOGI can be found here.

Other federal partners, such as the National Institutes of Health, through sponsorship of a National Academies consensus panel report, continue to explore measurement of SOGI to ensure high-quality information and best practices for collecting this information in research and non-research surveys.

The U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF), NCSES’s parent agency, funds research across its many Directorates’ portfolios and programs that explore questions around gender equity in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields, academia, information systems, and other related sectors. NSF’s SOGI Data Action Plan can be found here.

Q: How do I contact NCSES to further discuss its efforts around sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI)? 
A: NCSES remains open to stakeholder input and partnerships that further advance the knowledge base and potential implementation of SOGI questions on its surveys of the U.S. science and engineering enterprise.

Interested parties can e-mail their questions or comments to NCSES at ncsesinfo@nsf.gov. For information on research grants from the National Science Foundation that explore this topic more widely, please e-mail info@nsf.gov.  

NCSES Funding Opportunities


Q: Where are Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) solicitations posted?
A: Solicitations are posted on sam.gov. You will find them listed under Contract Opportunities.

Q: When are Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) solicitations posted?
A: Solicitations are typically posted around December 1 and can be found by navigating to sam.gov.

Q: How long do Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) awards span?
A: BAA awards are designed to last no more than 2 years due to the experimental nature of the work and the potential for this research to be only the first stage of a larger endeavor.

Q: What is the funding amount for Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) awards?
A: BAA funding awards may vary, but they will not exceed a budget of $500,000.

Q: Is the Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) the same as a grant?
A: No, the BAA is its own unique funding mechanism and operates much like a cooperative agreement. Unlike a traditional contract, which can be highly prescriptive, the BAA offers considerable flexibility for the applicant to propose an innovative research plan. Institutions that are awarded a BAA research project will follow contract protocols as opposed to grant reporting mechanisms used by the National Science Foundation. Awardees will still specify deliverables but are given the flexibility to adjust the research plan if results are pointing in a new direction.

Q: Do you have examples of past Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) solicitations?
A: Past BAA solicitations may be referenced below.

Research Program Resources


Q: What areas of methodological research does NCSES conduct when collecting survey data?
A: Methodological experiments on surveys by the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES) may focus on determining an optimal incentive amount, identifying respondents’ mode preference, evaluating usability of online instruments, and exploring the most effective contact strategies, as well as implementing adaptive design.

Q: Can you tell me about the partnership between NCSES and the Coleridge Initiative’s Applied Data Analytics program?
A: NCSES has partnered with the Coleridge Initiative’s Applied Data Analytics programs to encourage researchers to use NCSES data to explore questions about pathways to STEM education and careers and its relevance to science policy.

Q: Can you provide a few examples of past analysis projects for the Coleridge Initiative’s Applied Data Analytics program?
A: A few examples of past analysis projects include:  
  • The role of federal funding on PhD career outcomes
  • Debt levels of doctorate recipients
  • Retention of PhD graduates by region
  • The likelihood of science and engineering doctorate recipients to work in a science and engineering field or academia after graduation

Standard Application Process


Q: Does the SAP take the place of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request?
A: No, the SAP does not take the place of a FOIA request. When Congress passed the Evidence Act of 2018, one of its goals was to make it easier to apply for access to the confidential data assets collected by the government’s 16 principal statistical agencies, with the goal of informing better policymaking. According to the statute, anyone who applies for access to restricted-use data using the SAP, therefore, must demonstrate that the project will contribute to evidence building in some way. FOIA requests, on the other hand, can be made to any federal agency and for any document, without specifying a reason.

Q: Which agencies are participating in the SAP, and how has each agency implemented it?
A: All 16 principal statistical agencies participate in the SAP. For questions about specific programs, datasets, or data files, applicants are asked to use the contact information included in the metadata about the asset. The owning agency or unit is the most knowledgeable about its data sources. Information about data assets that are not part of the SAP archive can be found at Data.gov, the official catalog for publicly available data from all federal agencies, or by visiting the agency’s home page.

Q: Can you explain the appeals process?
A: The SAP is required by law to include an appeals process that could potentially reverse an adverse determination. The appeals process resides within the agency that owns the data. Appeals are evaluated by three senior officials appointed by the agency and are expected take no longer than 8 weeks.

Q: Who can or cannot apply for access to confidential data sets?
A: Reviewing whether an applicant should be granted access to confidential data through the SAP is an important part of each agency’s risk management decision process. Applicants must demonstrate that the data will be used for an exclusively statistical purpose and in a manner that complies with statutory limitations governing the data’s use. In addition, the applicant must be able to satisfy the physical and logistical requirements for access (e.g., a computing environment that can handle the purposed volume of data) and show that the project can be executed within a given timeframe. Statistical agencies and units retain the final authority to grant an applicant access to their data. Most require completion of data use, data stewardship, and confidentiality training before granting approval.

Q: Are instructions available on how to best navigate the SAP?
A: ResearchDataGov is an online portal for discovery of restricted data in the federal statistical system and houses the SAP. It contains detailed descriptions of data assets for all 16 principal statistic agencies. Users can search for data by topic, agency, and keywords. Questions related to the data should be directed to the owning agency, using the contact information on the page that describes the data.

Q: Do researchers with existing approvals for restricted-use data have to change what they do to access confidential data?
A: Individuals with approvals in place to use restricted-use data assets (“agents”) will not be required to submit an application with the SAP. However, they will need to submit applications via the SAP for any new projects that involve the use of restricted-use data.

Q: How is the SAP data inventory related to data.gov?
A: ResearchDataGov, where the SAP is housed, is the official portal for discovery of confidential data assets in the federal statistical system (FSS). It currently contains a data inventory and agency content pages for restricted-use data available from the 16 principal statistical agencies and units that make up the FSS. Data.gov, on the other hand, is the official catalog for publicly available data from all federal agencies, including the FSS. Data.gov is managed by the U.S. General Services Administration. Both websites were established by the Evidence Act of 2018, Data.gov in Title II and ResearchDataGov in Title III.

Q: By potentially expanding access to restricted data assets, could the SAP undermine data confidentiality?  
A: Although the SAP facilitates applying for access to federal confidential data assets, it in no way relaxes the privacy protections governing restricted-use data. In fact, protecting the trust of information providers was an important goal of Title III of the Evidence Act, and the law includes several provisions to ensure that individually identifiable information would remain confidential.

Q: Where can I learn more about how confidential data may be accessed once my application is accepted?
A: Data access is determined by the owning or distributing agency and is limited to physical or virtual data enclaves. The specific access modality for each data asset can be found in the data inventory on ResearchDataGov. When your application is approved, the authorizing agency will guide you through the process of gaining access.

Q: Are any data collected via confidential surveys available without an application? How may these be discovered and accessed?
A: Many agencies that collect confidential information under the Privacy Act also release “de-identified” data under their own statutory authorities. These public-use files are easily accessible and widely available; many can be downloaded from department websites. Data.gov is another good source of public data files.  The catalog provides access to data, tools, and resources to conduct research, develop web and mobile applications, and design data visualizations for more than 300,000 federal data sets.

Q: What  is the relationship between the SAP and the National Secure Data Service (NSDS)?
A: Both the SAP and the NSDS are part of a transformational federal effort to streamline secure researcher access to government data sets for authorized uses. The SAP provides an important gateway to the federal government’s extensive and growing catalog of restricted data assets available for evidence building, established as part of implementing the 2018 Evidence Act. The NSDS is currently a demonstration project established in the CHIPS and Science Act of 2022 to enhance secure data access and linking across the whole of the federal government. Although the exact relationship between the SAP and the NSDS has not yet been defined, the goal is to advance both efforts to enable a seamless customer experience. 

Q: How will the SAP relate to the Federal Statistical Research Data Centers (FSRDCs)? 
A: The SAP is an application process and not a secure data enclave like the FSRDCs. However, those seeking access to federal data through a secure data enclave like an FSRDC will apply for such access via the SAP, especially if the request is for data held by a federal statistical agency. Individuals with approvals in place to access restricted-use data assets (“agents”) will not be required to submit a new application via the SAP for projects that have already been approved. However, they will need to submit applications via the SAP for any new projects that involve the use of restricted-use data. 

Q: How does the SAP relate to America’s DataHub Consortium (ADC)?
A: Both the SAP and the ADC are efforts to expand evidence building capability in a privacy-protective manner, a key goal of the Evidence Act, but they each fulfill a different need. The ADC is a partnership that brings together public and private data and research organizations to develop solutions that help build evidence—for example, the challenge of engaging more Americans in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) workforce. The SAP allows applicants to apply for access to many data assets, including those that may be used by the ADC.

Q: How do all of these things—the SAP, the FSRDCs, the ADC—come together?
A: In coordination with the Chief Statistician of the United States, all 16 federal statistical agencies and units are currently working together on multiple fronts to improve data access, modernize data privacy protections, and strengthen evidence-building capacity. The SAP is one part of this overall effort. For the first time, applicants can apply—in one place—for restricted federal data. The SAP portal also houses a metadata catalog of restricted data assets available from statistical agencies and units, where applicants can browse the nation’s inventory of restricted-use data without leaving the site.

Q: How much will the SAP cost applicants?
A: Currently, there are no fees to use the SAP, either for data discovery or to apply for access to restricted-use data. Fees may be required by individual agencies for data access.

Survey Participants


Q: I’ve been contacted to participate in an NCSES Survey. How can I tell if this is a legitimate survey?
A: Each NCSES survey form has an Office of Management and Budget (OMB) number with an expiration date that represents federal approval and authorization for the agency to collect the information from you. Some NCSES surveys are conducted by the Census Bureau and some are conducted under contract with private survey research organizations to collect the information on our behalf.  Although the contracting organizations are not official government agencies, we require and verify strict security and confidentiality protections are in place by our contractors to collect and store NCSES survey data. In addition, we include NCSES staff contacts for any questions or concerns you may have regarding the survey when contacted by the Census Bureau or our contractor organizations.

Q: I’ve agreed to participate in an NCSES survey. What can I expect?
A: NCSES is required by law to keep your responses confidential and can use your information only for statistical purposes. In response to those confidentiality protections, the information you provide when completing the survey is used only in aggregate form to produce and publish NCSES statistical reports. For more information on the steps that NCSES takes to protect survey data, please see the Implementation Guidance for the Confidential Information Protection and Statistical Efficiency Act of 2002 (CIPSEA).