Data and Budgeting for an Effective Economy

Federal statistical data plays an integral role in decision-making within businesses and government. It is important that the data be obtained and reviewed with a high level of rigor to maintain its integrity, and this requires sufficient support from Congress. A large amount of data comes directly from the Federal government thanks in part to agencies such as the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), and most prominently, the Census Bureau. These agencies are all in line to endure cuts from the Trump Administration’s budget.

Supporters of the Census Bureau have raised concerns that the agency isn’t receiving the funds necessary to adequately perform the decennial Census. Government collected data has long been considered the “Gold Standard” of data resources, and for good reason; these agencies are fiercely dedicated to providing accurate, unbiased statistics. Our country depends on these statistics as a kind of lubricant for our economy; the better the information, the more efficient its operation.

We use the Census to determine how our local constituencies are represented. The BEA produces statistics that measure U.S. economic performance, like GDP. The BLS tracks our national unemployment rate, and the demographic statistics that compose the greater national reporting. Cutting funding for these programs could have negative repercussion to our economy and society.

The impact the Administration’s proposed budget has on the Census is particularly concerning. Compared to years past, the proposed funding ramp-up to the decennial Census is far behind, especially considering the new method the Census is interested in testing. The primary function of the Census is to make record of every person residing in our nation, and the Bureau is working to find better ways to execute the most accurate count possible. The Bureau understands that even a successful Census count, like the one 2010, comes with errors, and they are seeking out ways to improve their processes.

Citizens that change residences frequently can be missed, and those with more than one home are sometimes counted multiple times, or do not respond to the standard data collecting methods at all. This has a direct impact on political apportionment, and we should be encouraging the Census to develop new, modern techniques, not battling for funding that barely allows the Bureau to keep valuable programs like the American Community Survey (ACS) afloat. Using new methods to perform such a daunting task undoubtedly comes with uncertainty, but the Bureau of the Census estimate that investing in updates could save over $5 billion when compared to their traditional data collecting methods.

The BLS and BEA both serve to provide policy and business leaders with essential macroeconomic indicators. Monthly unemployment and national GDP statistics are developed by these agencies respectively. Those two statistical programs alone are immensely powerful, and important decisions, including the allocation of government funding and business development resources, are made with this information in mind.

These two programs aside, the Administration’s budget request explicitly states of the BLS that the Bureau “may need to delay or defer spending on…certain data improvement…and research projects”, a statement that goes without saying considering the FY18 budget request doesn’t even allow the BLS to cover needed budget adjustments resulting from inflation. The National Economic Accounts, which produces the crown jewel of the BEA, annual GDP, faces a sharp 12% reduction in funding which will require the BEA to do away with developing new programs, like the International Trade in Services initiative, completely. In their Congressional budget estimate write-up, the Department of Commerce reports that, “Without these new data, U.S. businesses, trade negotiators, state and local planners, and other policy-makers will lack critical data to guide future economic decisions.”

Quality government provided statistics are an imperative that transcends the political spectrum; Democrats and Republicans alike can understand the important role that the government has in providing accurate data for Congress. Members of the House and Senate need to know who they are representing if it is incumbent upon them to advocate for their needs. Further, good statistics are needed by both the private and public sectors. Free markets are more productive and efficient when business decisions are informed with reliable data. Good work from the Federal Statistical Agencies raises all the boats in the harbor. This part of our government is too connected to economic activities that result in jobs and wages to not receive the support it needs. The implications of the work done by agencies like the Census Bureau should be considered paramount to the government’s effort in promoting prosperity.

The Census Bureau requires upwards of $1.8B in FY2018 to perform the preparations necessary to conduct a full decennial Census. This upfront investment will ultimately save money and improve the quality of the data. BLS and BEA also have been facing cuts to vital programs due to a lack of funding and staffing and need your support. Contact your representatives to let them know you want them to support Federal data programs. The Census Project, C2ER, LMI Institute, and APDU will keep you up to date as the budget develops.