ITIF Taking a Stand on U.S. Statistical System and Census Bureau

A pair of recent reports from the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation (ITIF) put down interesting markers for action to improve the federal statistical system.

In April, ITIF came out in favor of dismantling the Commerce Department (which houses the U.S. Census Bureau) and creating “a national statistical agency.”

According to the report, “It makes no sense to have multiple statistics bureaus dispersed in multiple agencies, from the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) and the Census Bureau in Commerce, to the Bureau of Labor Statistics in Labor. The GAO noted in 1996 that the United States has around 70 different statistical agencies. Canada, by contrast, has one. Congress should establish a “U.S. Stats” to house Census, BEA, BLS, and ideally other statistical agencies, too.

In July, another ITIF report called for a massive new investment in federal statistical programs.

The national statistical system, as explained in the report, “was and is designed to help facilitate fiscal and monetary policy in order to avoid another Great Depression, and as such, measures things such as the number of houses built and cars manufactured. It has not been adequately modernized to measure the competitiveness of the electronics industry, auto industry, or any other number of important matters, including innovation (the assumption being that those things take care of themselves). If the U.S. government is going to develop more effective policies to spur competitiveness, growth, and opportunity it will need to support better data collection. It should be able to understand the U.S. competitive position vis-à-vis other nations on key technologies and industries, as well as key strengths and weaknesses and where specific policies are needed.

ITIF further makes the case that “budget constraints have meant that U.S. statistical agencies lack the resources needed to effectively measure key elements of the economy,” so it is necessary for Congress to appropriate a lot more money to close gaps in data, and to allow for new and expanded surveys, faster publication timelines, and the modernization of federal data infrastructure.