15 February 2008

What you don’t know can hurt us

The Bush administration has a long and comical history of going to great lengths to hide bad news from the public. Today, Amanda at TP reports on the latest gem:

The U.S. economy is faltering. Family debt is on the rise, benefits are disappearing, the deficit is skyrocketing, and the mortgage crisis has worsened. Conservatives have attempted to deflect attention from the crisis, by blaming the media’s negative coverage and insisting the United States is not headed toward a recession, despite what economists are predicting.

The Bush administration’s latest move is to simply hide the data. Forbes has awarded EconomicIndicators.gov one of its “Best of the Web” awards. As Forbes explains, the government site provides an invaluable service to the public for accessing U.S. economic data:

“This site is maintained by the Economics and Statistics Administration and combines data collected by the Bureau of Economic Analysis, like GDP and net imports and exports, and the Census Bureau, like retail sales and durable goods shipments. The site simply links to the relevant department’s Web site. This might not seem like a big deal, but doing it yourself–say, trying to find retail sales data on the Census Bureau’s site — is such an exercise in futility that it will convince you why this portal is necessary.”

Alas, as the economic conditions worsen, the administration decided to shut down this “necessary” website, citing “budgetary constraints.”

How expensive could it be for the Economics and Statistics Administration to keep a website online? Probably not much, but the political costs of making embarrassing data easily accessible to the public is probably quite high.

As long-time readers may recall, I started keeping track of instances in which the Bush administration would hide inconvenient data quite a while ago. Some of my favorite examples include:

* In March, the administration announced it would no longer produce the Census Bureau’s Survey of Income and Program Participation, which identifies which programs best assist low-income families, while also tracking health insurance coverage and child support.

* In 2005, after a government report showed an increase in terrorism around the world, the administration announced it would stop publishing its annual report on international terrorism.

* After the Bureau of Labor Statistics uncovered discouraging data about factory closings in the U.S., the administration announced it would stop publishing information about factory closings.

* When an annual report called “Budget Information for States” showed the federal government shortchanging states in the midst of fiscal crises, Bush’s Office of Management and Budget announced it was discontinuing the report, which some said was the only source for comprehensive data on state funding from the federal government.

* When Bush’s Department of Education found that charter schools were underperforming, the administration said it would sharply cut back on the information it collects about charter schools.

My friends at TPM took this even further, and compiled a comprehensive list, through a project they called, “What You Don’t Know Can’t Hurt Us.” Paul Kiel published the latest version a couple of months ago, and it’s chuck full of mind-numbing examples like these.

When public information conflict with the White House’s agenda, the Bush gang has a choice — deal with the problem or hide the information. Guess which course they prefer?

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