SABEW supports open government and Sunshine Week, March 10-16

As the nation marks Sunshine Week ’19, the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing (SABEW) is celebrating the importance of the First Amendment and press freedom. Journalists, consumers and businesses require timely, accurate data to understand the state of the economy and to make sound decisions affecting all aspects of a democratic society.

SABEW is alarmed at how Trump administration policies have adversely affected federal statistical agencies, including the Bureau of Labor Statistics and Bureau of Economic Analysis. Although, the partial government shutdown has ended, access to official statistics continues to be delayed despite the good work of devoted researchers.

Business writers and editors count on these agencies, among others, for accurate and timely data to paint a clear picture of the U.S. economy. After a review by SABEW’s First Amendment Committee we are providing several examples to underscore our concerns.

  • Feb. 29, 2019: BEA says it cannot release each month’s personal income and spending data together because the spending data is delayed by the 35-day federal government shutdown. BEA says reports will have misaligned data for some time (i.e. income data from one month and spending data from a different month), meaning a less complete monthly snapshot of personal income and spending.
    Source: BEA website
  • Jan. 30, 2019: BEA announces new release dates for reports on the gross domestic product and international trade due to delays caused by the government shutdown.
    Sources: BEA website and BEA website.
  • Jan. 18, 2019: BLS releases report on annual union membership but cannot provide a full picture because data on union representation by economic sector, gender, race and other demographics is delayed by the government shutdown.
    Sources: Employment Policy Institute and Employment Policy Institute
  • Dec. 18 – Jan. 19: Some statistical agencies, such as the Census Bureau, are idled by the government shutdown, leaving the public, businesses and investors without current data on the economy. Disruption includes monthly reports on new home sales, construction spending, manufacturers’ shipments and inventories, and international trade.
    Source: Pew Research Center
  • June 21, 2018: Trump administration proposes putting Census, BLS and BEA under the Commerce Department to save money; says businesses and public are “burdened” by data collectors. Critics worry the proposal will reduce funding for statistical agencies and undermine the 2020 Census.
    Sources: WTOP and The Insights Association
  • Aug. 4, 2017: President Trump undermines BLS by tweeting about jobs report before public comment is permitted.
    Sources: MarketWatch; The American Statistical Association and MarketWatch
  • Feb. 27, 2017: President Trump’s first proposed budget calls for cuts to statistical agencies and other domestic spending to help pay for an increase in defense spending.
    Source:  CNN
  • Feb. 19, 2017: Trump Administration proposes changing how trade deficits are calculated, a shift that would make the country’s trade gap appear larger than it had in past years and support Trump’s push to renegotiate NAFTA.
    Source: WSJ
  • January 2017: The former chief statistician of the United States resigns out of fear the new Trump administration will undermine the ability to collect and report data accurately and objectively.
    Sources: The Guardian and Statistics Views
  • November 2016: Fearing the incoming Trump administration will delete information from government databases  it doesn’t agree with, academics and librarians from Data Refuge take steps to preserve open records.
    Sources: Sunlight Foundation and WSJ
  • February 2016: Candidate Donald Trump says the national unemployment rate, from BLS, is “phony.”
    Sources: PolitiFact and The Washington Post

Journalists, consumers and businesses require timely, accurate data to understand the state of the economy and to make sound decisions. We offer this statement in support of Sunshine Week and open records and express our deep concern that Americans should not be forced to accept a reduction in access to information that the Supreme Court has called “the basic data of government.” (Cox Broadcasting v. Cohn, 1975).

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