Statistics group issues ‘statement of concern’ over ERS
December 4, 2018
The American Statistical Association board of directors has issued a statement of concern regarding the Trump administration's plan to move the Agriculture Department's Economic Research Service into the secretary's office and to move most of the employees out of the Washington metropolitan area.
"Moving the ERS outside of the nation's capital and having it in the secretary's office undermines evidence-based policymaking in the food, agriculture and rural sectors of our economy and society," said ASA President Lisa LaVange. "If relocated, it is likely to take years for ERS to rebuild its staff and programs to the same high (level of) quality it is now."
"Moving the ERS from the information-providing arm of the USDA to a policy-supporting function in the secretary's office also jeopardizes ERS's reputation for providing policy-neutral reports, information and statistics," said ASA Executive Director Ron Wasserstein.
"As a White House Office of Management and Budget policy directive states, 'It is paramount that federal statistical agencies and recognized statistical units produce data that are impartial, clear and complete and are readily perceived as such by the public.
"Accordingly, federal statistical agencies and recognized statistical units must function in an environment that is clearly separate and autonomous from the other administrative, regulatory, law enforcement or policy-making activities within their respective departments. For ERS to meet this criterion as a federal statistical agency, it should be kept in the USDA research arm, fully insulated from the secretary's office.
"The statement frames the concern for ERS as one of two USDA federal statistical agencies and 13 OMB-designated federal statistical agencies whose products are the foundation of U.S. evidence-based policymaking and data-driven decision-making. The document punctuates their importance by quoting a National Academy of Sciences document, Principles and Practices for a Federal Statistical Agency: 'The reason for a statistical agency to exist is to serve as a trustworthy source of objective, relevant, accurate and timely information for decision-makers, analysts and others — both inside and outside the government — to help them understand present conditions, draw comparisons with the past and guide plans for the future.'
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"Just as the U.S. has a physical infrastructure supporting our commerce, security, health and everyday lives, we have a data infrastructure supporting decisions and policies across an equally broad swath," added LaVange.
"Because the data from the federal statistical agencies are the gold standard of objective, timely data in their respective sectors, they are the bedrock of the US data infrastructure. Weakening our data infrastructure weakens or forestalls decisions and policymaking. This is why federal statistical agencies play such a unique and vital role in our country and why we should be doing our utmost to protect their functioning and integrity."