If Information Is Power, What Is Lack Of Information?

I’m going to take the charitable (though probably mistaken) view and say that Representative Daniel Webster was not deliberately trying to turn out the lights on Americans’ access to critical data when he proposed an amendment to defund the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS).

I tried (unsuccessfully) last year (here, here) to salvage the Statistical Abstract of the United States, a vital source of data since 1878. In fact, the book Fundamentals of Government Information – Mining, Finding, Evaluating and Using Government Resources says (emphasis mine):

The following chapters in Part 2 are arranged by broad topic area, starting with Statistical Information (Chapter 8), and the simple becomes multifaceted as we show the many ways in which government documents librarians utilize their most essential reference work, the Statistical Abstract of the United States.

So the “most essential reference work” utilized by government documents librarians is now gone, for a savings of about $2.9 million, not even a rounding error on a rounding error.

And the ACS is apparently next. As the NY Times points out, Representative Webster has a link on his page for those interested in “Census Data for the 8th District.” Where does the link go? To the ACS, of course. The same ACS that Representative Webster now wants to defund. Amazing.

The effort to kill the ACS is opposed by even the right-leaning Wall St. Journal, as well the New York Times and the Washington Post (see also here).

Here is a comment from the Census Director regarding the consequences of losing the ACS (though I confess he wasn’t quite as worked up about losing the Stat Ab). Finally, here is a series of videos about the importance of the ACS to various target audiences, among which I include myself.

The charitable view is that it’s all about cost savings. The not-so-charitable view is that it’s about death by a thousand cuts to the vital information that informs us as to where we’ve been, where we are, and helps us plan where we’re going and craft a better future for all Americans. “Operating in the Dark,” as the Times puts it. This must not stand.



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