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Op-Ed

Budget 2010: More and Better Data for Metro Decisionmaking

Andrew Reamer

As reflected in reports, articles, and congressional testimony, the Metropolitan Policy Program has long argued that current, accurate, and accessible federal socioeconomic statistics are necessary to sustain well-functioning metro regions.

At a cost of a few dollars per person per year, the return on taxpayer investment in federal statistics is substantial. Federal data are relied upon to:

  • apportion congressional seats and Electoral College votes;
  • redraw legislative districts;
  • guide national economic policy;
  • determine the annual flow of hundreds of billions of federal funds;
  • allow federal, state, and local governments to address issues and assess actions in every domain of metropolitan life, such as jobs, housing, transportation, and health; and provide businesses from Wal-Mart to mom and pop outfits with information to assess markets and find the right locations and product offerings.

As we reported previously, long-standing metro employment and housing measures were eliminated, severely cut back, or not updated by the previous administration and Congress. Further, opportunities to take advantage of the power of information technology were not seized.

The passage of the omnibus FY 2009 budget in March restored Bureau of Labor Statistics current employment statistics for 65 smaller metros and “modernized” the Consumer Price Index, which continued to draw its housing sample from the 1990 Census due to the lack of $10 million.

President Obama’s proposed FY 2010 budget continues the data restoration process in several more agencies and also offers a number of significant improvements:

  • At the Census Bureau, a series of management and funding missteps led to concerns over the possibility of a poorly implemented 2010 census. However, a new management team and an additional $1 billion from the Recovery Act appear to have set census planning and implementation on a viable path. The Census Bureau FY 2010 budget provides further fiscal basis for a successful census, a jump to $7.8 billion in the census year from $2.9 billion in FY 2009 (46).
  • Also at Census, additional funding is proposed for the innovative Local Employment Dynamics (LED) program, from $2 million to $14 million. The LED program will allow data users to compute the “flows” of local economies in any of three ways—labor turnover (hires and fires), where people live in relation to where they work, and the path people take from one job to the next—with disaggregation by industry, age, sex, race/ethnicity, and educational attainment. LED has the potential to allow far more sophisticated understanding, analysis, and policy prescriptions, at very low cost. For several years, the Metro program has actively supported the LED program through hosting workshops and presentations; that support laid the foundation for this request.
  • Also highly beneficial for metros, the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) FY 2010 budget request includes a $2 million initiative for “Rebuilding County and Metropolitan Area Economic Statistics.” Due to a budget cut in late 2007, BEA expected to eliminate “subsector” industry detail from its county and metro income and GDP data. Recognizing the significant political and analytic problems such cuts would cause, the administration added funds not only to restore the subsector detail but also:
    • develop a new county-level GDP data series,
    • create inter-state, inter-metro, and inter-county price indices that would allow for real (inflation-adjusted) estimates of state and local GDP and income; and
    • accelerate the release of county and metro data so they are released ten months after the calendar year rather than 16 months.

BEA proposed this initiative following an October 2008 idea-generating Metro program workshop that brought together BEA leadership and staff with the representatives of 20 associations, research organizations, and federal agencies reliant on BEA regional data.

  • The Economic Development Administration proposes to create a regional industry clusters information center as complement to a new clusters grant program. The center would provide a constantly updated picture of the geography of industry clusters across the U.S. Such a picture would inform regional, state, and federal economic development strategy as well as business decision making. The EDA clusters program proposal reflects the recommendations of a Metro program paper on the topic.
  • The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is requesting a 56 percent boost in Office of Policy Development and Research (PD&R) data infrastructure spending, from $32 million to $50 million. Additional funds would be used for two critical purposes. One would be to rebuild the American Housing Survey (AHS), the most detailed source of information about the nation’s housing stock and occupants. The AHS has been in a sorry state, as recent funding cuts have substantially reduced sample sizes and coverage of metropolitan areas. PD&R also proposes to create a new Multifamily Residential Finance Survey to complement existing single-family residential finance efforts.
  • The Department of Education’s Institute for Education Sciences seeks to continue its work supporting the development of state longitudinal education data systems that can track the performance of all students over years and so lead to improved program design and student outcomes. While the request for $65 million is the same as in FY 2009, an additional $250 million was allocated by the Recovery Act. And the budget for the Employment and Training Administration proposes $15 million for a new Workforce Data Quality Initiative to support integration of workforce and education data in longitudinal data systems.

While many statistical agencies have budget requests that, if enacted, would lead to improved metro statistics, several federal efforts continue to struggle with inadequate requests for FY 2010. These include the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, which received a woeful $1 million increase to $28 million, and the Workforce Information-Electronic Tools-Systems Building program at the Employment and Training Administration, which was flatlined at $51.7 million.

The FY 2010 budget requests for statistical agencies suggest that the Obama administration realizes the need to revitalize federal statistics for metros. At the same time, the budget reflects the facts that the administration inherited a mature budget process and had to make a series of final decisions ad hoc. The hope is that this budget proposal provides the foundation for an even more robust set of statistical program budget requests for FY 2011.

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