C2ER Update on Federal Statistics September 2018

Is Congress funding my data?

President Trump’s agenda to cut costs and streamline government has those who use and value Federal statistics concerned about the future of critical agencies we rely on. Frankly, these agencies, such as the Census Bureau, Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), and Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) have been flat funded for almost a decade. Now what? The latest we heard on funding could be dire for BLS and concerning for the Census.  It is crucial that C2ER members communicate to their Senators and Representatives the importance of BLS data to businesses’ decision-making and profitability. For example, Steve Pierson wrote an op-ed in the Washington post on the importance of funding the Bureau of Labor Statistics, providing an important voice in a newspaper undoubtedly read by legislators and their staffers.

What’s going on with the 2020 Census?

Good news! We may have a new Census leader. The Trump Administration’s nominee, Steven Dillingham, is waiting for a hearing.  C2ER has been watching the nomination process closely and has advocated for swift movement on agency leadership when vacancies linger. Strong agency leadership is vital to C2ER members for several reasons, not the least being the proper allocation of hundreds of billions of dollars in state funding, reliant on the collection of accurate data to support these efforts. C2ER is supporting and monitoring the of the 2020 Census with regard to these issues in particular:

  • The fierce debate over the March 2018 addition of a  citizenship question without the standard testing that usually accompanies any change that may drive up costs and lower response rates, thereby impacting data quality and quantity.
  • Ensuring appropriate funding to support of the needs of the 2020 Census in light of its importance to public and private allocation of funds.

As a side note on leadership vacancies, Ken Poole of C2ER penned a letter of support urging Census Bureau leadership to fill the Chief of the LEHD program on August 15, 2018, which has been vacant for nearly a year.

Agency leadership: musical chairs…

The Secretary of Agriculture announced on Thursday, August 9 that the Economic Research Service will undergo several significant changes in the coming year. USDA is moving ERS out of the Research, Education, and Economics area of the USDA to the Secretary’s Office of the Chief Economist.  The rationale is that this move will better align the missions of ERS and the Chief Economist. In addition, most ERS and NIFA personnel will have to relocate outside of the Washington, DC metro area to an undetermined location.  Finally, USDA recently announced that Mary Bohman, the Administrator of the Economic Research Service, will move to a new position the Office of the Administrator, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to serve as Associate Administrator (Economics), on September 2, 2018.

USDA Secretary Perdue stated that these changes were necessary to attract and retain qualified staff including agricultural economists, place resources closer to stakeholders in the heartland, and benefit taxpayers by reducing staff and land costs. These are controversial changes that have significant impacts on public statistics and signal intent by the Trump Administration to move forward on other changes to agencies, especially if they can be done through administrative action. Former USDA ERS Commissioner Katherine Smith Evans, now of the American Economic Association, recently wrote an editorial on proposed funding cuts for ERS – the agency faces significant threats to funding, staff, and mission.  C2ER will keep you informed as further as this issue develops and will join with others to serve as your voice to address our shared concerns on these issues.