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Federal Statistics Act 2000 (Comments)

Federal Statistics Act 2000 (Bundesstatistikgesetz 2000)
(Bundesgesetzblatt BGBL - Issue of 17 August 1999 - No.163)

On July 13, 1999, the Austrian Parliament passed the Federal Statistics Act 2000. This represents the third basic law in Austrian federal statistics following the Acts of 1950 and 1965 respectively. When the law came into force on January 1, 2000, the Austrian Central Statistical Office was transformed into a federal institution under public law entitled "Statistics Austria".

Reasons for a new Federal Statistics Act

A new Federal Statistics Act (FSA) was necessary due to the fact that a number of prominent problems were not covered by the existing Act, thus resulting in restraints on the adaptation of the statistical system. This especially applied to:
- the development of secondary statistics and the utilisation of administrative data
- the maintenance of the data register as the basis for execution of statistical surveys, and simultaneously as a substitute for these surveys; moreover to the regulation of the information inflow required for the maintenance of the register;
- the best possible degree of protection for the respondents as the permanent duty of official statistics.

A new FSA was also necessary because the self-image of the statistical services and the way in which these were anchored in the law had acquired a different quality. A major signal for this was the "Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics" of the ECE/UN, passed in 1992, being one of the first official codifying documents relating to the ethical and professional foundations for official statistics on an international level. Similar principles can be found in a number of more recent examples of national statistics legislation, and also in the EU Council Directive on Community Statistics of 1997. The declaration by the International Statistical Institute on professional ethics should also be mentioned in this context. Official statistics are no longer seen as a mere provider of data for political and administrative bodies, but also as an essential component of the "information milieu" in democratically constituted societies, and as a permanent official reminder of real situations, sizes and proportions. Statistics is an interconnected system of tasks and solutions, not merely the sum of individual surveys or projects. Topics such as "basic principles", "professionalism", "statistics as public property", i.e., as an open system for citizens and administrative bodies, can no longer be disregarded today when talking about official statistics. Many of these topics ought, in fact, to be reflected in the legislative description of the task of official statistics.

A new FSA was also necessary for the reason that many of the conditions for working with statistics in Austria had worsened over the last few years. As with most areas of the public service, the former Austrian Central Statistical Office had recently been stifled within a corset of cuts and restrictions, tightened additionally by a specifically devised reduction programme based on commercial analyses. The symptoms of a "downward spiral" were unmistakable. As these conditions could be expected to continue for a number of years, then at least the legal capacity for negotiations needed to be adapted in order to be utilised at a later date.

New items about the Federal Statistics Act 2000

One basic principle of the new act is the further legislative anchoring of statistics. The thicket of regulations brought about by the accession to the EU, particularly in the area of business statistics, continues on a national level, as not only primary statistical surveys, but also the procurement procedures within the area of secondary statistics require the prior issuing of subordinate legislation. Exceptions only apply to surveys where participation is voluntary (e.g. special programmes within the micro-census). Furthermore, the new Act addresses in its first main part the "executive bodies of federal statistics" in the plural, thus providing for the possibility that other institutions besides the institution under public law of "Statistics Austria", whose chief task it is, may also be entrusted per federal act with some of the tasks of federal statistics, and therefore also made subject to the application of this Act.

Besides this, the following changes should be noted in brief:
- Determination of goals and principles, which are intended to bring the FSA up to the internationally achieved standard;
- Referral to all relevant EU legal norms as the general setting for national statistics
- An extension of the Act to the area of secondary statistics;
- Procedures for the keeping of registers, for acquiring data from registers and for the uniform use of classifications;
- The fundamental priority given to samples over full surveys;
- Additional requirements for reasons of data protection;
- Emphasis on minimising the burden on respondents, e.g. by providing information electronically;
- Extension of publishing requirements, in particular via internet;
- Extension of possible arrangements for outsourcing statistical surveys and other work, as well as in the implementation of EU co-financing;
- Regulation of scientific access to statistics data;
- Establishment of local responsibility/authority for administrating punitive measures in accordance with the dwelling place principle (previously tied to the location of Statistics Austria).

Finally, those regulations affecting the establishment of the new federal institution, its executive bodies, its working methods, financing and the interim provisions (in particular for its staff) should also be mentioned. (These make up more than half of the new Act). The most important of these regulations are:
- For questions of a general nature, the Office of the Federal Chancellery remains the supervisory body; for matters concerning execution, the relevant Minister is responsible.
- The Institution has legal personality and is financed by the Federation in the form of an annual lump-sum payment.
- The Institution is a central establishment of Federal Statistics and, in the course of fulfilling its duties, is subject to particular ethical principles and particular publication obligations, especially those concerning the free distribution of main results via Internet.
- The Institution provides its services in return for payment or reimbursement for costs.
- The executive bodies of the Institution comprise a Management Board consisting of a Director-General of Statistics and a Director-General of Finance, a Statistical Council (15 members, of these 8 representing the government and 7 representing other interest groups) for the statistical agendas and an Economic Council (12 members, of these 8 government and 4 union representatives) for the business agendas. As far as the duties, the constellation and the working method of the executive bodies are concerned, these are covered by numerous detailed regulations within the provisions of the Act (see below).
- A separate official workplace was established for the lifetime public servants of ÖSTAT (Bureau of the Austrian Central Statistical Office); contract staff continues to be covered by the relevant federal legislative norms. New staff taken on as of 1st January 2000 is subject to the Salaried Employees Act and a staff contract to be drawn up by the Institution.

Details concerning the executive bodies

The Bundesanstalt "Statistik Österreich" has two managing directors: one Director-General of Statistics and one Director-General of Finance, who are supported by two supervisory boards, the Statistical Council and the Economic Council. The Central Commission of Statistics and the Special Advisory Subcommittees remained, but the Central Commission has lost its former significance and has become more of a representative "conglomerate" of the advisory boards.

(Article 37 (2) states: "The appointment of the Director-General of Statistics and of the Director-General of Finance shall be made following an official advertisement in accordance with the provisions of the Act Concerning the Filling of Vacant Positions (BGBl. Nr. 26/1998). They shall be appointed by the Federal Chancellor for a period of not more than five years."

Article 37 (3) states: "Notwithstanding claims for indemnification, the existing contracts concerning the appointment to the position of Director-General of Statistics and/or to the position of Director-General of Finance may be revoked at any time by the Federal Chancellor for good cause."

Article 38 states:

(1) The duties incumbent on the Director-General of Statistics shall be the management of the public institution in technical (statistical) and sovereign tasks. Insofar as these duties are of a sovereign nature, he or she shall be subject to the directives issued by the competent federal minister. In all matters of a scientific or technical nature he or she shall not be bound by instructions in the fulfilment of his or her duties.
(2) The Director-General of Finance shall be responsible for the management of the public institution in all matters concerning business administration and all other tasks which are not the responsibility of the Director-General of Statistics. In the fulfilment of his or her duties, he or she shall apply the necessary care appropriate to a proper business person and shall observe and adhere to the basic principles of business ethics.

The Statistical Council consists of 15 members, to be appointed as follows:

- 4 members are appointed by the Federal Chancellor
- 1 member each is to be deployed by of the following: Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Economy and Labour, Ministry for Social Security and the Generations, and the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, for the Environment and the Management of Water Resources.
- 1 member each is deployed by the Austrian National Bank, the Austrian Economic Chamber, the Presidential Council of the Austrian Chambers of Agriculture, the Federal Chamber of Labour, the Austrian Federation of Communes, the Austrian Federation of Municipalities and the Council of Heads of Provincial Government.

The Economic Council is to consists of 12 members:

- 3 are appointed by the Federal Chancellor;
- 1 member each are deployed by:
a) the Minister of Finance
b) the Minister of Economy and Labour
c) the Minister of Agriculture and Forestry, for the Environment and the Management of Water Resources
d) the Minister of the Interior, and
e) the Minister for Social Security and the Generations
The remaining 4 members are deployed by the Works Council.

Main Tasks

The task of the Statistical Council is to perform the following duties:
- Provision of yearly report in order for the Federal Institution to meet the basic principles;
- Provision of recommendations:
a) on the methods of presenting administrative data in order that these may also be used for statistical purposes; and
b) on the co-ordination of the Federal Ministries and the Bodies of Federal Statistics in matters concerning statistics from the Federation and from the European Union.
- Release of statements:
a) on various draft directives and the planned implementation of these; also on draft statutes concerning statistics;
b) on draft decrees by the organs of the European Union for purposes of producing Community statistics and carrying out statistical surveys.
- Provision of statements and recommendations on the working programmes and budgets.

The Economic Council has the responsibility to fulfil the following duties:

- To forward proposals to the Federal Chancellor for the appointment of auditors for the annual statement of accounts;
- Examination of the annual statement of accounts and of the status report of the Federal Institution, including reporting on these to the Federal Chancellor;
- Taking of a decisions on the planned activities planned for the next several years, and working programmes and the Budget, including reimbursements of expenses;
- Acceptance of reports on gestation, the course of profits and losses and the internal budget control of the Federal Institution;
- Approval of collective contracts and works agreements of the Federal Institution;
- Issuingance of Rules of Procedure for the Commercial Managing Director-General of Finance Director of the Federal Institution in which the limits for investments, the granting and raising of loans and the conclusion of service contracts and sundry contracts is are to be set down in writing after which the approval of the commercial Economic cCouncil is to be sought;
- Adopting of a resolution on the submission of motions to the Federal Chancellor for the purpose of dismissal of the Commercial Managing Director-General of Finance following a two-thirds majority vote;
- Approval of the acquisition and alienation of real property, holdings, enterprises and businesses;
- Approval for the payment of bonuses and pension assurances to the Commercial Managing Director-General of Finance, the Statistical Director-General of Statistics and leading employees;
- Adopting of a resolution on the submission of motions to the Federal Chancellor for approval of the Code of Procedure of the Commercial Council;
- Easing the responsibilities of the Commercial Managing Director-General of Finance.

Unchanged items

A number of conditions from the Acts of 1950 and 1965 relating to statistical activities and the conduction of surveys remain unchanged, in particular:
- the obligations relating to the provision of information and confidentiality (the latter being tightened up in the form of an Official Confidentiality Act in accordance with Article 310 StGB);
- the co-operation of the municipalities (communes) in national statistical surveys, and the reimbursement of the former;
- that the term "expert advice" be the key word denoting the overall responsibility for statistics in the future public-law institution, intensified by an explicit freedom of authority in questions of a methodical and/or technical nature;
- the management of internal administrative statistics by the Federal Ministries.

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