See this seemingly innocuous notice over at the Bureau of Labor Statistics website:
On Friday, January 17, 2014, President Obama signed into law the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2014. The Act provides $592.2 million in funding to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) for the fiscal year (FY) 2014 that began October 1, 2013. This funding level is $21.6 million below the FY 2014 President’s Budget. In order to achieve the necessary savings for this funding level and protect core programs, the BLS is taking the steps listed below:
- Curtail the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (QCEW). The QCEW program provides national, State, metropolitan statistical area, and county data on monthly employment and quarterly total wages and the number of establishments, by 6-digit North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) code and by size of establishment. The BLS will achieve savings largely by reducing the scope and frequency of collection for select units in the QCEW survey that is used to validate and update the NAICS code of business establishments. This will result in a small degradation in the quality of QCEW data and make the QCEW slightly less accurate as a sampling frame.
- Curtail the International Price Program (IPP). IPP Export Price Indexes measure the price change of goods and services sold to foreign buyers. The BLS will discontinue production and publication of its Export Price Indexes. These indexes currently are used in the production of National Income and Product Accounts and in the calculation of real Gross Domestic Product. In addition, these indexes are used to help understand trends in U.S. real trade balances and competitiveness and issues such as the impact of exchange rate movements.
The QCEW provides critical benchmarking data to the monthly payroll survey so an even slightly “degraded” sampling frame will potentially reduce the accuracy of the payroll survey as well. And in a world were inputs are increasingly globalized/outsourced, we need more, not less information about import pricing.
Furthermore, I know of no agency that’s better, more efficient, more insulated from the ugly politics of this benighted town than the BLS. Double furthermore, $22 million is 0.0006% of current outlays, so…um…it ain’t exactly the problem. The whole damn agency budget, as per above, amounts to just 0.02% out 2013 outlays ($3.45 trillion).
Yes, today’s political economy debate is not anywhere close to data driven, though it should be. And I don’t want to be alarmist–BLS will still produce highly useful information. But even a scratch to the integrity of our data system should not go unnoticed. It is foolish and counterproductive, unless, that is, facts make you uncomfortable.