I find it inconceivable that the US government would decimate its statistical reporting to citizens. Yet this is what seems likely to happen if funding for the Statistical Compendia Branch along with the Federal Financial Statistics Program of the US Census disappears. It’s not just the Statistical Abstract, it’s other important titles as well: State and Metropolitan Area Data Book, County and City Data Book, Consolidated Federal Funds Report (CFFR), and Federal Aid to States (FAS). The Department of Commerce’s 2012 Congressional Budget Justification document (pp. 82-92 are the critical ones) suggests that the plan is to shift funding towards some new program that will deliver the data in a different format. Several posts, here and here, at FreeGovInfo provide more information. Note that the new program, whatever it might be, is a very hazy concept and that the government would first do away with the publications that now exist before thinking about a replacement.
I think about it this way: We’ve got a road. We can drive on it. Maybe it’s not state of the art, but we can use it to get from point A to point B. So, we want a better road. We dynamite the existing road, leave it impassable for a few years, then start considering a new road. Meanwhile nobody got from point A to point B. And if the new road is never built, nobody ever goes from point A to point B.
The Statistical Abstract (affectionately known as Stat Abs to many of us) has been published annually since 1878. The other titles are instrumental in guiding informed decisions, not just of business people, but also of the general public. As I understand this, this isn’t a situation of “let’s replace print with online,” which I could live with. Instead, it’s “let’s just not tell anybody about the data we’ve collected.” In this age of Linked Data, how could the US government take such a backward step? What happened to transparency in government?
OK, maybe there’s a plan somewhere to replace our “old standbys” with new data dissemination methods, but with no funding, I don’t understand how this can realistically happen.
Ray Matthews, Government Information Coordinator, Utah State Library, has posted an excellent presentation on the issue. He suggests we look at “perpetual trusts or endowments for government agencies, libraries and archives to fund access to document collections, databases and datasets.” He also wonders about “legal corporate structures for governmental libraries and archives to independently maintain and operate online archives with immunity from political and economic influences.”
The funding cessation is not yet final. Only input from citizens to their elected officials in Washington will sway legislators to restore the money needed to create these important government publications.
I’m pretty sure this is going to come up as a hot topic at WebSearch University.