The impact of the government shutdown, the longest in history and entering its 26th day, is extensive—from food safety worries to tax return concerns to many individuals and families struggling without paychecks. An often overlooked government function that has ceased operating in many cases is the collection and dissemination of public data. How will the shutdown affect the government’s efforts?
As Drew DeSilver in an article for the Pew Research Center notes, there isn’t a single, clear answer: some data will be shared as scheduled, while other deadlines will be postponed depending on when their affiliated agencies were funded.
DeSilver demystifies the question by listing upcoming and overdue release dates for major agencies. He writes that, aside from planning for the decennial count, the Census Bureau has halted most activities, and the data consequences are considerable. DeSilver reports:
- “no November data on new home sales (which were supposed to come out Dec. 27),
- construction spending (Jan. 3),
- manufacturers’ shipments, inventories and orders (Jan. 7), and
- international trade (Jan. 8).”
Data published before the shutdown are still available through the Census Bureau’s website, which is being partially updated. Although planning for Census 2020 continues, DeSilver cites The Federal News Network, which reports that the clock is ticking on the bureau’s funding; only six to eight weeks remain before preparation halts completely.
American Community Survey products, like Public Use Microdata Sample (PUMS) (initially expected to be released today), will fall also fall behind. Todd Graham, Chair of the Census State Data Center Steering Committee, detailed in a recent email to state data centers that “ACS’s data collection operation is also furloughed. ACS survey is (supposed to be) continuous, and surveying 300,000 households per month. Right now they are stuck: 2019 data collection is falling behind schedule.” Graham also explains that while the December ACS survey questionnaires were delivered, the responses wait in limbo. The Census’s incoming mail facility, as well as the Respondent Assistance Call Center and Nonresponse Followup are all shut down. Additionally, January 2019 surveys were not mailed, with no solutions yet determined.
DeSilver mentions the Bureau of Economic Analysis, has also been forced to close its doors until the shutdown ends. The bureau typically produces gross domestic product estimates, and even though the January 30th release date is about a week and a half away, the shutdown could delay their publication.
Since the Labor Department was funded in September 2018, the Bureau of Labor Statistics is still active. The public can expect December’s inflation reports and detailed jobs and unemployment data at the national, state, and metropolitan levels. The status of the January jobs report, however, remains unclear; BLS collaborates with the Census Bureau on the Current Population Survey, which plays an essential role in creating the report.
DeSilver does offer some good news, however. Some agencies are still on course for their data deliveries: the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Center for Health Statistics, the National Center for Education Statistics, and the Energy Information Administration, the Federal Reserve, and the Federal Housing Finance Agency.
While many people feel unsure of what action to take, their voice is a powerful tool. They can call their state’s senators and representatives to let them know how crucial government data are to organizations large and small for planning and programmatic purposes.
To read more about the unstable timeline of data releases, check out the full article from the Pew Research Center here.