What’s Going to Happen to the Nation’s Economic Data?

With statistical agencies under budget pressure, a White House adviser makes no promises to defend funding for the economists who measure America’s economy.

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 13: Jason Furman, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors, testifies on the current economic outlook during a hearing of the Joint Economic Committee on November 13, 2013 in Washington, DC. Furman stressed that the economic recovery is strong despite the manufactured crises in Congress, but that it is too soon to say whether the brinksmanship of the government shutdown will have drastic consequences.
National Journal
Catherine Hollander
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Catherine Hollander
Feb. 25, 2014, 7:03 a.m.

Un­cer­tainty hangs over the re­cov­ery this winter as eco­nom­ists try to tease out how much of the re­cent dis­ap­point­ing data is due to the un­usu­ally severe weath­er and how much is due to more wor­ri­some weak­ness in the eco­nomy. To do this, they turn to gov­ern­ment data — which now face un­cer­tainty of their own.

Jason Fur­man, chair­man of the White House Coun­cil of Eco­nom­ic Ad­visers, ac­know­ledged the cloudy fu­ture of gov­ern­ment-run stat­ist­ic­al agen­cies on Tues­day, but he would make no prom­ises about the de­fend­ing the fund­ing for eco­nom­ists who meas­ure the na­tion’s eco­nom­ic health.

“There are cer­tainly go­ing to be dif­fi­cult choices in the budget when it comes to stat­ist­ics,” he said. “And there’s go­ing to be dif­fi­cult choices in just about every area of the budget.”

The White House is ex­pec­ted to re­lease its budget for the 2015 fisc­al year next week. On Monday, The Wall Street Journ­al re­por­ted that the Labor De­part­ment was con­sid­er­ing cuts to a pro­gram that tracks ex­port and im­port prices, which play an im­port­ant role in cal­cu­lat­ing in­fla­tion and out­put.

Fur­man, speak­ing over break­fast at the Na­tion­al As­so­ci­ation for Busi­ness Eco­nom­ics’ an­nu­al policy con­fer­ence, said he agreed with his eco­nom­ist peers that fund­ing stat­ist­ic­al agen­cies is im­port­ant. But he poin­ted to the obstacles for fund­ing any­thing in the gov­ern­ment: linger­ing spend­ing re­stric­tions that were part of the 2011 Budget Con­trol Act and the auto­mat­ic budget cuts known as the se­quester, which were par­tially but not com­pletely re­pealed.

Fur­man’s re­marks came in re­sponse to an audi­ence mem­ber who asked wheth­er the White House would de­fend the Bur­eau of Labor Stat­ist­ics and the Bur­eau of Eco­nom­ic Ana­lys­is from fur­ther fund­ing cuts.

The ques­tion drew ap­plause from the room of eco­nom­ists, who gathered to hear Fur­man de­scribe the White House’s eco­nom­ic out­look and the pres­id­ent’s agenda. Fur­man said he did not dis­agree with the no­tion that pro­tect­ing the data was im­port­ant, even as he laid out the fisc­al obstacles to do­ing so.

“We [at CEA] like to think of ourselves as fo­cus­ing on the na­tion­al in­terest and think eco­nom­ics is really a dis­cip­line that helps you train and think about that. We’re less re­spons­ive to this con­stitu­ency or that con­stitu­ency,” Fur­man said. “But to the de­gree we do have a con­stitu­ency “¦ the one that’s closest to our heart is fed­er­al data and its im­port­ance.”

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