October 2, 2013

Federal government shutdown: The data casualties

When it’s not delivering the mail, fighting battles overseas or providing fodder for late-night comics, the federal government is a prodigious collector, analyzer and disseminator of data. And for economic analysts, social scientists and other researchers who’ve come to rely on federal data, the government shutdown will slow the flow of facts and figures to, if not a trickle, at least a rivulet. (The first major data casualty was the Census Bureau’s monthly report on construction spending, which was supposed to come out Tuesday.)

Here’s a by-no-means comprehensive look at the shutdown’s data victims, compiled from agency release schedules and third-party calendars. Tell us how the shutdown is affecting your data needs in the Comments section below, or on Twitter at @FactTank. And bear in mind that even if the shutdown ends after just a few days, data releases likely will be delayed.

  • The Bureau of Labor Statistics has ceased almost all operations, the Associated Press reports, though it may still release its highly anticipated September jobs report on Friday if the White House authorizes it to do so. But you probably shouldn’t expect any data on metro-area unemployment for August (due Wednesday); the job-openings and layoffs report (due Oct. 8) and the import and export price indices (Oct. 1o) may also be postponed until further notice. Later this month, the BLS is supposed to report on inflation at the producer (Oct. 11) and consumer (Oct. 16) levels.
  • The Census Bureau has gone dark for the duration, along with the rest of the Commerce Department. Census had been due to report a slew of economic data this week and next, including August factory orders (Oct. 3), the U.S. trade deficit for August (Oct. 8), and August business inventories and September retail sales (Oct. 11). On Oct. 24, Census is scheduled to release its three-year (2010-12) American Community Survey estimates and the one-year Public Use Microdata Sample, both beloved by demographers and other social scientists for what they say about what’s going on at the county and city levels.
  • Also part of Commerce, the Bureau of Economic Analysis also has shut down, though it’s not scheduled to release its first estimate of third-quarter gross domestic product until Oct. 30.
  • With the Agriculture Department closed, don’t expect any reports from its Economic Research Service or the National Agricultural Statistics Service. The Education Department’s National Center for Education Statistics also has gone dark.
  • Neither the Centers for Disease Control or its National Center for Health Statistics will be issuing any updates during the shutdown. The CDC furloughed about 68% of its staff, according to The New York Times, and said it would be unable to help state and local officials keep track of infectious diseases and have only limited capacity to respond to food and disease outbreaks.

There are alternative sources for some, but by no means all, of the federal data that will go missing during the shutdown. And not everyone is shutting off the data spigot, at least not entirely:

  • The Labor Department still is expected to issue its weekly report on applications for jobless benefits on Thursday, according to the AP.
  • The Federal Reserve, which doesn’t rely on Congress for funding, should still be on track to issue its weekly reports on the money supply and its own balance sheet on Thursday, as well as consumer credit (Oct. 7), and industrial production and capacity utilization (Oct. 17).
  • UPDATE: The Transportation Department’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics has some available funds that aren’t subject to the annual appropriations process, spokesman Dave Smallen said. While the agency plans to release non-airline-related reports (such as the August freight shipments report due Oct. 9) as scheduled, the funding for its airline-data program has lapsed; that means no airline-related reports for the duration of the shutdown. The monthly report on airline fuel cost and consumption had been set for Oct. 8, and the release of July airline traffic data had been set for Oct. 22. Also, Smallen said, the bureau’s monthly North American freight release (scheduled for Oct. 30) depends on Census data, and will be delayed ”

    if the shutdown of the Census Bureau delays the release of the data to BTS beyond the date needed for us to issue the release on schedule.”

  • UPDATE: The Federal Housing Finance Agency, which funds itself through assessments on Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the 12 Federal Home Loan Banks, says its data releases (including the House Price Index report for August, scheduled for Oct. 23) remain on track.
  • The Energy Information Administration, part of the Energy Department, also has some available funds, spokesman Jonathan Cogen said, and will report as scheduled this week on petroleum stocks (Wednesday) and natural-gas inventories (Oct. 3).

“That may get us through this week and most of next week, so until those funds run out we’ll be releasing our reports on the regular schedule,” Cogen told Fact Tank. “After that, all bets are off.”

Note: This post was updated Oct. 2 at 4:59 p.m. to reflect additional information.

Note: This post was updated Oct. 3 at 3:10 p.m. to reflect additional information.

Topics: Government Spending and the Deficit

  1. Photo of Drew DeSilver

    is a Senior Writer at the Pew Research Center.

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5 Comments

  1. Jonathan W. Fink7 months ago

    The Federal Government shutdown is just the appetizer. The Republicans, and the Tea Party Republicans are just getting us ready for the main course: Another fight over the debt limit.

    Yesterday, on Mike and Mike in the Morning, Greenberg and Golick devoted a segment to Right Winger or Right Winger to make fun of the shutdown. In the segment, they read the caller a name and the caller has to determine if the name belongs to someone who plays right wing in the NHL or to someone who is a tea party member of Congress. It’s actually harder than you may believe. Not everyone in hockey is named Hansen, Oglethorpe, or Hanrahan.

    Last evening a traditionally liberal friend of mine was lamenting the actions of the Congressional far right in the shut down. I reiterated my off stated point that the far right is not interested in governing, it is interested in ideological purity.

    I explained my belief that the tea party is to the Republicans what the new left was to the Democrats and is ultimately bound have the same effect: Crippling the Republicans for a generation. On that score, I said, we should probably be celebrating.

    My real concern, I declared, is the impending fight over the debt ceiling. With a brief explanation, he kindly dismissed my concern as catastrophic.

    Well, today, I received confirmation of my fears. Boehner declared he would prevent a fight over the debt ceiling. My observation is that when Boehner says one thing, he is unable to follow through or does the opposite.

    Trust me: The Federal Government shutdown is just the appetizer. The main course is a fight over the debt ceiling. I can’t wait.

    Reply
  2. Jessica7 months ago

    I found a couple easy workarounds. 1) Google cache. 2) Internet archive (www.archive.org)

    Reply
  3. Dan7 months ago

    NIST and FTC as well. Side note on FTC – when you want to file an identity theft report, the FTC is one of the recommended stops for consumers. Other complaints include fair debt collection, and do not call list.

    Reply
  4. Abraham Thomas7 months ago

    Quandl has a ton of data from 20+ US government departments and agencies — archived, accurate and available despite the shutdown: qndl.co/18tdN5Z.

    Reply
    1. Emjeyzee7 months ago

      The BLS still has the historic data available (that have not been repackaged by Quandl). The site will most likely be up unless it crashes. The BLS is not reporting new data (and neither is Quandl for that matter). Also, be careful with how data are presented. Axis that does not begin with 0 can be misleading if you are not paying close attention.

      Reply