Friday, February 15, 2008

Federal Spending on Statistics

The Web site of the Economics and Statistics Administration of the U.S. Department of Commerce opens with: "Due to budgetary constraints, the Economics Indicators Service will be discontinued effective March 1, 2008." This sounded serious to me. Forbes awarded one of its "Best of the Web" for public service. I was ready to believe the worst, because the Bush Administration has been short-changing Federal data collection programs. Maurine Haver of Haver Analytics has long been concerned about underfunding of these programs. For example:
The United States has moved from the old SIC manufacturing-based code to the new NAICS code, which requires that Census collect more data on employment and wages in the services industry, but the administration hasn't provided the needed new funding.
The CPI numbers are suspect in part because the housing sample hasn’t grown with the growth of housing since 1990.
Some critics of the administration are concerned that data collection is being starved because advisers to the President only want to put out good news. However, on second look, the fact is that the ESA and the web site that is closing are duplicative of FedStats and the websites of the agencies - BEA, Census and BLS, which provide similar services and cover a much broader number of series (ESA doesn't cover the CPI and payroll employment numbers from the BLS).
So more support for Federal statistics is crucial, but in the real world of scarce resources the money spent for ESA's website might well be rechanneled to the Census Bureau.