Commerce Dept. Shutting Down Economic Data Web Site For Money Reasons

Wednesday, February 13, 2008 at 09:16 PM

Have any idea what it costs to maintain a web site? Not much. And if the content of the web site is already being compiled and disseminated in other forms, the total cost of maintaining a site is real small. But not small enough for the Department of Commerce to maintain it's web site which presents economic data from both the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA).

Pretty good timing, eh? Economic facade starts hitting the fan and voila', no more easy to use web site that folks can turn to in order to make up their own minds on how things are going. Hat tip to Think Progress for the info that, if you go to the Economic Indicators web site, you immediately encounter this cryptic little note: "Due to budgetary constraints, the Economic Indicators service ( will be discontinued effective March 1, 2008."

Budgetary restraints. Before you laugh yourself to death, think about the fact that the site only presents data already being collected by the BEA and Census. And that data will continue to be collected. Without the web site, however, it will be much harder for entities like newspapers to ferret out troubling data, i.e., data that makes it harder for the public to swallow the "all is good" pabulum doled out by the freight car-full. For example, without, would the Denver Post, by way of the AP, have come up with this:

Frugal shoppers cut back sharply, fanning recession fears

By Jeannine Aversa

The Associated Press

Funny how the end of that AP story refers to "On the Net: Retail Sales:"

Nor does the impending shutdown of the web site comport with the Bush admin's announced policies on statistical information. Obviously, the Dept of Commerce at one point thought the cost of running the site was worth it, or the site would never have seen the light of day.

And, the administration has repeatedly emphasized its intent to create better and more efficient ways of collecting and sharing statistical data. Take for example, the administration's own (by way of the Council of Economic Advisers) "FACT SHEET FOR THE ADMINISTRATION’S PROPOSAL ON STATISTICAL CONFIDENTIALITY AND DATA SHARING." This document states that:

The Council of Economic Advisers has taken the lead in the Administration’s proposal (HR 5215) to improve Federal statistical programs.

The Administration’s proposal would:

• Authorize the sharing of business data among the Bureau of the Census (Census Bureau), the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), and the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to improve the accuracy and reliability of economic statistics and to reduce the duplicative paperwork burdens imposed on businesses...

Nor has the administration changed its mind on the importance of statistical info on the economy. The President's own Economic Report, issued just Monday of this week, contains a chapter captioned "Improving Economic Statistics." Part of that chapter (emphasis added):
The Importance of Statistical Systems

Providing accurate information to households, firms, and policymakers is an important role of government statistical agencies. Most decisionmakers in private industry, in Federal, State, and local governments, and in private households, rely in some way on data collected by Federal agencies. Federal economic statistics are designed to be consistent, unbiased, and reliable over time. These statistics can prove particularly useful if their availability and analysis allow a costly problem to be prevented or remedied more quickly and efficiently.

Private decisionmakers benefit from high-quality statistical systems because they improve the value of the information upon which firms and individuals base their decisions. For example, in formulating investment decisions, industries may use data on final demand or on the output of other industries that buy their output. A firm may examine a variety of labor market data, such as wage rates and educational attainment in the region, when deciding where to open new branches of the company. Airport authorities may study regional economic prospects when considering expansion decisions. Worker organizations and employers may track inflation trends and factor these price changes into their expectations for nominal wage gains. Popular press accounts based on occupational earnings may help students choose colleges, fields of study, or other training that will have long-term implications for their career paths. State and local governments rely on a wide variety of statistical data to benchmark their performance, to plan for the future, and to readjust their allocation of resources. For example, a State that finds its high school dropout rate rising relative to other States may opt to devote more resources to education. Likewise, a city that finds its crime rate rising relative to other localities may choose to devote more resources to law enforcement. States and cities may study data on local population growth to assess the need for new transportation systems, schools, and other types of physical infrastructure.

Monetary and fiscal policymakers also rely on high-quality, publicly available data for understanding the changing state of the economy, for formulating sound policy on a wide range of macro- and microeconomic issues, and for economic forecasting.

Yes, they rely on publicly available data. Now it will just be harder for the public to find the available data. Good thing this government can't find the enormous amount of money required to maintain that web site. The cost must be in the thousands. Thousands, I say, thousands of hard-earned taxpayer dollars. No room at the incredibly large budget inn for such nonsense. Not when there are billions upon billions that simply vanished in Iraq, and billions upon billions more were handed out by the administration and its flunkies to hundreds of local groups just before the 2006 election.

Deny, deny, conceal, obfuscate and deny. The new American way.


He who controls the spice controls the universe.

In this case the spice is information. This transparent excuse of "budgetary constraints" coming from the man who gave the US it's first 2 and 3 Trillion dollar budgets is pure unmitigated gall. In BushWorld no news is good news one imagines.

Bush must go.

The spice must flow.

GObama. 08ama '08.

Your criticism of the Commerce Department is unfounded. Your lack of understanding of how funding works in Federal agencies is obvious by your remarks. There is no conspiracy by the "Administration" to quell a free flow of information. You are letting your paranoia get the better of you. I suggest you talk to folks inside the DOC before write ridiculous jaundice drivel like this. If you do that, next time you may not look so foolish. (I said "may not", there is no gaurantee.)

Gosh Visitor, thanks so much for your helpful critique.

Don't suppose you can be bothered to explain exactly how the way that "funding works in Federal agencies" explains why the DOC is aborting a useful, inexpensive, and popular tool that clearly furthers the administration's publicly announced goals r.e. statistical information?

If you do that--manage to provide some responsive info that supports your intense opinion--next time you may not look so partisan. (I say "may not," there is no guarantee).

I appreciate your desire to help me look non-partisan. Hopefully you will use the strategy yourself sometime. It will help you seem more credible.

I do believe that the Census and BEA websites are adequate in providing the public the economic information they desire. Not to mention that Census offers a Data Ferret tool to help ferret information from all the published data.

As to cost for website management, it cost several hundereds of thousands of dollars for a Federal agency to produce and maintain security certification and accreditation packages for each and every system they operate on the internet. The cost is due to the oversight requirements mandated by agencies such as NIST and OMB, and asundry legislation passed by Congress. Eliminating a redundant website system is actually a positive step in the direction of Federal cost control.

I realize that Federal cost control is viewed as an extremist or right-wing partisan position. But I feel it is a wise and important part of the duty of the Federal government. I know this idea is offensive to many. But that is my, as you say, "partisan" opinion on government spending.

JBS, I think the relevant question is how much this 1 website added to the total cost; especially as someone else mentioned, this administration has seen fit to dole out billions of dollars to questionable and downright wrong reasons.

"If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck and swims like a duck, it ain't a backhoe."

True, maybe it does cost a whole to run a website. Problem is, amidst continuing economic bad stuff, it does look sorta-maybe bad that a site would shut down, as all it offers is regrettably bad news.

Doth that mean Uncle Big Brother is up to something? Hard to say, but with the current track record, Orwell's now up to 34,500 RPM.

Over and out.

Well JBS, you originally atacked the post on the grounds that I simply don't understand how federal agencies are funded. Now you're defending the elimination of the web site on the grounds that it's redundant, and that maintaining any online federal database is expensive. So what was it that I didn't understand about agency budgeting?

As for the redundancy, surely the DOC was aware of the redundant aspect of the web site when it started it up. What changed? Why was the site considered enough of an improvement over existing sources to undertake the development costs, but now--after considerable praise from the public about its usefulness--considered not worth the maintenance costs?

As to the cost, I can't dispute you because I have no idea what it costs to maintain a federal web site. I also don't know whether you have any idea. But I do know that several hundred thousands of dollars is (a) not an awful lot compared to other costs the government happily incurs, and (b) probably more than the DOC needs to incur to maintain a site that combines info from two other sites.

And as I keep saying, killing this site seems contrary to the administration's frequently announced goals for statistical information.

The very fact that you think "Federal cost control is viewed as an extremist or right-wing partisan position" says an awful lot about your perspective. That's a nonsense statement worthy of the far right talking heads. I do view as an extremist position the idea that making helpful government information available to the public is somehow less important than the activities that this administration has thrown billions at.

No one is against cost control. I am definitely against cost control that adversely impacts public access to information while ignoring the much higher costs of keeping information from the public and, even worse, of spreading the government's views (try standing up againt the absurd waste of money involved in paying journalists to tout government policy under the guise of journalism, for example).

Ron Paul is the ONLY candidate who gets IT!!! Our government spends too damn much money!!! Thats IS the problem, wake up stupid people!!! He's not going to make you feel good about getting your $600 rebate check. He's not going to promise you universal health care for everyone. He may make you feel good about doing what needs to be done and that is,... TAKING BACK OUR GOVERNMENT!!! Maybe he's not the "winning" candidate, but were not betting on the Super Bowl either. We should be trying to pick someone to be President of the United States of America and take control of our screwed up country.

Stop Being Afraid!!!


Stop Being Afraid!!!


One of the things of which I'm the most afraid is what would happen to this country if we pursued Ron Paul's announced principles of economics (derived in toto from the "Austrian school of economics").