President’s Budget Backs BEA Efforts to Provide New and Improved Economic Data

As the fictional great detective Sherlock Holmes put it, and former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke has quoted: “It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data.”

In the case of business leaders, households, and policymakers, those data frequently come from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. Several initiatives contained in President Barack Obama’s recently unveiled budget for fiscal year 2017 would enable BEA to produce economic data that are even more valuable to decision makers in the private and public sectors.

Under one initiative, BEA would develop a “Regional Economic Dashboard” and deliver new statistics detailing the economic performance of each of the nation’s more than 3,000 counties and how industries in those counties are faring. (Currently, BEA produces gross domestic product statistics for the United States as a whole as well as for all 50 states and all metropolitan areas.)

Local governments have long clamored for the same quality GDP statistics that their statewide and national counterparts rely on. These new local economic statistics could aid business decisions about investing, hiring and market research. Individuals could use the new statistics to evaluate whether the county is an attractive place – economic opportunity-wise – to live.  And, policymakers could use the new statistics to better tailor local economic policies.

The new Regional Economic Dashboard also would feature an array of other new and improved local economic statistics in an interactive format that’s easy for users to access.

Another initiative is aimed at improving the quality of economic indicators, such as BEA’s national GDP, which uses data from the private sector as well as other government agencies, including the U.S. Census Bureau. (The Census Bureau and BEA are both part of the U.S. Commerce Department.)

The president’s proposal calls for accelerating the incorporation of key Census source data into estimates of GDP. The goals: reducing revisions and removing the effects of seasonal trends from more of the industries that feed into GDP.

This initiative would build on BEA’s ongoing efforts to make sure that GDP and its suite of other economic indicators are accurate, timely and capture the dynamic nature of the U.S. economy. Last year, the Census Bureau began producing an “advance” monthly report on international trade in goods, allowing BEA to incorporate three months of official trade data into its first estimate of quarterly GDP, with the aim of improving the accuracy of this major economic measure.

These proposed data initiatives are not only consistent with BEA’s mission of furthering the public’s understanding of the U.S. economy through our statistics, but also support the Commerce Department’s strategic goal of unleashing economic data to help business leaders and the public make the best possible decisions.

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