Federal Government

Standards for the Classification of Federal Data on Race and Ethnicity (rev. 1997)

Description of Standard

The Office of Management and Budget sets standards for the collection of race and ethnicity data used for federal government purposes.

The current OMB definition is from 1997 per the Standards for the Classification of Federal Data on Race and Ethnicity (rev. 1997). The standards represent minimum requirements; agencies can, and do, go beyond these minimum standards but they must be able to aggregate data to the OMB’s defined categories.

These standards

“were developed in cooperation with Federal agencies to provide consistent data on race and ethnicity throughout the Federal Government. Development of the data standards stemmed in large measure from new responsibilities to enforce civil rights laws. Data were needed to monitor equal access in housing, education, employment, and other areas, for populations that historically had experienced discrimination and differential treatment because of their race or ethnicity. The standards are used not only in the decennial census (which provides the data for the "denominator" for many measures), but also in household surveys, on administrative forms (e.g., school registration and mortgage lending applications), and in medical and other research. The categories represent a social-political construct designed for collecting data on the race and ethnicity of broad population groups in this country, and are not anthropologically or scientifically based.”

OMB initiated a process in 2016-17 to revisit the standard due to limitations with the existing standard. While a notice came out in March of 2017, we do not know of any additional steps.

Standard or Guideline

Below is an excerpt containing the bulk of the standard. Read the full standard online.

This classification provides a minimum standard for maintaining, collecting, and presenting data on race and ethnicity for all Federal reporting purposes. The categories in this classification are social-political constructs and should not be interpreted as being scientific or anthropological in nature. They are not to be used as determinants of eligibility for participation in any Federal program. The standards have been developed to provide a common language for uniformity and comparability in the collection and use of data on race and ethnicity by Federal agencies.

The standards provide two formats that may be used for data on race and ethnicity. Self-reporting or self-identification using two separate questions is the preferred method for collecting data on race and ethnicity. In situations where self-reporting is not practicable or feasible, the combined format may be used.

Respondents shall be offered the option of selecting one or more racial designations. Recommended forms for the instruction accompanying the multiple response question are "Mark one or more" and "Select one or more."

In no case shall the provisions of the standards be construed to limit the collection of data to the categories described above. The collection of greater detail is encouraged; however, any collection that uses more detail shall be organized in such a way that the additional categories can be aggregated into these minimum categories for data on race and ethnicity.


The minimum categories for data on race and ethnicity for Federal statistics, program administrative reporting, and civil rights compliance reporting are defined as follows:

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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."
  • 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."
  • Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander. A person having origins in any of the original peoples of Hawaii, Guam, Samoa, or other Pacific Islands.
  • White. A person having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa.

Who must Comply

This standard does not face City Departments. Below is the compliance requirement at the federal level:

“The new standards will be used by the Bureau of the Census in the 2000 decennial census. Other Federal programs should adopt the standards as soon as possible, but not later than January 1, 2003, for use in household surveys, administrative forms and records, and other data collections.”


Executive Office of the President, Office of Management and Budget (OMB), Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.

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