More on budget cuts for statistics

Source: iStock/macgyverhh

My last post looked at the Census Bureau’s proposed 2018 budget. Turning to the other statistical agencies, we see that the President’s budget proposes more cuts. Fortunately, none of these cuts are as large as the roughly $25 million shortfall for the 2017 Economic Census or the $236 million shortfall for the 2020 Census. And in a budget that cuts non-defense discretionary spending more than 10%, the proposed cuts to the other statistical agencies manage to avoid serious damage to core statistical indicators and surveys.

Although I won’t go through the budgets of all of the statistical agencies in detail, I’ll review some of the more prominent cuts.

Bureau of Labor Statistics. As former BLS commissioner Erica Groshen explained in the Wall Street Journal (paywall), the BLS has already experienced budget cuts that have eliminated core programs and reduced the quality of continuing programs. The 2018 budget keeps funding at the 2017 level, thereby avoiding additional major programmatic cuts. But because of increases in salaries and other costs, flat funding is a cut of about 2% in inflation-adjusted terms, and the detailed BLS budget justification indicates a number of small cuts will need to be made. For example: the Current Population Survey would drop student dorms from the survey sample; BLS will slow the modernization of the systems for the Producer Price Index and the international price program, as well as the redesign of the Consumer Expenditure Survey; and BLS will stop publishing detailed information on employer health plan provisions.

Bureau of Economic Analysis. The BEA budget proposal shows a reduction of about $12 million from the 2017 level. However, about $4 million in savings comes from the administration’s plan to consolidate the Economics and Statistics Administration within the Office of the Secretary of Commerce, thereby eliminating policy support positions that aren’t directly part of BEA’s production of statistics. The BEA program cuts are mostly to recent initiatives that hadn’t yet reached full production: a health care satellite account that was designed to improve the measurement of health care spending; an initiative to improve statistics on international trade in services; and an effort to introduce new statistics on the economic impact of small businesses. I’m especially disappointed in the cuts to the health care satellite account and the trade in services initiatives, which are both areas for which the data quality needs to be improved.

Economic Research Service. The Department of Agriculture’s ERS budget proposal shows a reduction of about $8½ million from the 2017 level. The decreases appear to be mostly for research initiatives, such as research on increasing drought resilience, bioenergy/renewable energy,  diet quality, and local foods, as well as cuts to a consumer data information program, research and analysis of international agriculture, and cooperative agreements and grants. Under the proposed budget, ERS would maintain major statistical products like farm income indicators and forecasts.

Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. The AHRQ in the Department of Health and Human Services, although not one of the nation’s principal federal statistical agencies, does produce a number of important statistics. The President’s budget proposes that restructuring the agency, making it an institute within the National Institutes of Health and consolidating some AHRQ and NIH functions. The budget proposal for the new National Institute for Research on Safety and Quality (NIRSQ) continues to fund critical statistical programs like the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey and the Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project. However, the budget proposes eliminating the Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems.  


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