Why The Number Crunchers Are Wearing Long Faces

Economists in and out of Washington have long bemoaned the poor quality of government statistics. Last year, the Bush Administration, concerned that official numbers were painting an increasingly distorted picture of the economy, promised to give statistical agencies money to improve things. But the effort has come a cropper.

Faced with the spending caps imposed by last year's budget agreement, the Senate Appropriations Committee has actually cut money for some statistical programs. The House was somewhat more generous, but statistical agencies will be hard-pressed to keep funding at current levels.

Council of Economic Advisers Chairman Michael J. Boskin won early support for his plan to improve government data. But Capitol Hill supporters complain that he has done little follow-up, and statistical programs have lost ground to more popular spending. Advocates of a bigger budget for statistics say they'll try again in 1992, but they'll be without a powerful champion. Janet L. Norwood, Commissioner of Labor Statistics, is leaving after 12 years to join the Urban Institute.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.