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Free Government Information (FGI) is a place for initiating dialogue and building consensus among the various players (libraries, government agencies, non-profit organizations, researchers, journalists, etc.) who have a stake in the preservation of and perpetual free access to government information. FGI promotes free government information through collaboration, education, advocacy and research.

The “orderly shutdown” of NEH and 18 other agencies

It looks like University of North Texas’ Cyber cemetery is going to be busy this year, with National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) set to shut down and 18 other agencies targeted by the Trump administration for elimination. For a deeper look into Trump’s budget — and what’s getting cut! — see this recent Washington Post piece.

Since its creation in 1965, NEH has established a significant record of achievement through its grantmaking programs. Over these five decades, NEH has awarded more than $5.3 billion for humanities projects through more than 63,000 grants. That public investment has led to the creation of books, films, and museum exhibits, and to ensuring the preservation of significant cultural resources around the country. 

NEH grants have reached every part of the country and provided humanities programs and experiences to benefit all of our citizens. Hundreds of veterans leaving the military service and beginning to pursue an education have benefited from the Warrior-Scholar program, a boot camp for success in the college classroom. Students, teachers, and historians have access to the papers of President George Washington. NEH On the Road circulates traveling versions of major exhibitions to rural towns and small cities all over the map from Greenville, South Carolina, to Red Cloud, Nebraska, and beyond. Through these projects and thousands of others, the National Endowment for the Humanities has inspired and preserved what is best in American culture.

via NEH Statement on Proposed FY 2018 Budget | National Endowment for the Humanities.

APDU’s public letter in support of Federal statistical programs

I was so glad to see that the Association of Public Data users (APDU) just sent a letter in support of federal statistical agencies to the chairs and ranking members of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees. This letter has well over 700 signatories (including FGI!) from organizations including the National Association for Business Economists and the NAACP and individuals such as Katherine Wallman and Dean Baker. This is a critical time for federal statistics with funding for ALL federal programs seemingly on the chopping blocks. Keep the pressure on your representatives by calling and/or writing to them to save — and better fund! — federal statistical programs!

We are concerned that a lack of appreciation for the critical importance of our Federal statistical and data systems may worsen, and are worried that, after years of insufficient funding, these systems face deeper funding cuts and further marginalization. Our nation, economy, businesses and citizens rely on the nonpartisan, gold-standard data provided by several agencies, including the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Census Bureau, the Bureau of Economic Analysis, National Center for Education Statistics, the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, the Energy Information Administration, the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the Economic Research Service, the National Agricultural Statistics Service, the Internal Revenue Service Statistics of Income, the Social Security Administration Office of Research, Evaluation, and Statistics, and the National Center for Health Statistics.

These data resources benefit individual citizens who seek information to:

  • guide their career and education choices,
  • gain a clearer sense of wages and benefits on offer for different careers,
  • choose a community in which to live.

Our Democracy relies on Federal data for:

  • Apportionment — population count determines allocation of legislative seats by
    geography,
  • Redistricting — state legislatures use population counts and characteristics to determine
    legislative boundaries,
  • Voting and civil rights — Congress and the Supreme Court explicitly rely on data to ensure compliance with voting and civil rights laws.

Federal data resources help the public sector to:

  • evaluate programs
  • support evidence-based decision-making,
  • project tax collections and craft budgets,
  • guide fiscal and monetary policy,
  • target limited resources,
  • design policy and programs, such as in housing, health, education and training, economic development, transportation, and criminal justice,
  • index many benefits and tax brackets to inflation,
  • work with local businesses when making investments.

Congress needs to “rebuild” CRS — and other agencies too!

As a government information librarian, I know the value of reports from the Congressional Research Service (CRS). They’re great publications for understanding public policy being discussed at the Federal level and because of that, FGI has been fighting hard to make those publications public. Steven Aftergood, from the Federation of American Scientists’ Secrecy News project (which you’re reading everyday right?!), makes a critical point about the funding for this important research unit within the Library of Congress. He’s right of course that CRS — not to mention agencies like the US Census Bureau, GPO, Library of Congress and many others! — have faced a decade-long erosion of their budgets and been squeezed mercilessly by the political forces holding sway these days in DC. As Aftergood points out, it won’t matter if CRS reports are made public if it continues to be bled of its staff and budgets to do the research that Congress and the American public needs.

Most public controversy concerning the Congressional Research Service revolves around the question of whether Congress should authorize CRS to make its reports publicly available, or whether unauthorized access to CRS reports is a satisfactory alternative.

But a more urgent question is whether CRS itself will survive as a center of intellectual and analytical vitality. Already many of its most deeply knowledgeable and experienced specialists have been lost to retirement or attrition. And recurring budget shortfalls are taking a toll, say congressional supporters.

“According to CRS, recent funding levels have led to a loss of 13 percent of its purchasing power since 2010. The $1 million increase [proposed in the House version of the FY2017 Legislative Appropriations Act] will not even cover mandatory pay for CRS’ current staff,” wrote Reps. Nita Lowey and Debbie Wasserman Schultz in dissenting views attached to the House Appropriations Committee report on the FY 2017 bill.

“CRS’s [FY2017] budget request sought to rebuild the agency. They asked for two defense policy staff, five health policy staff, three education policy staff, two budget/appropriations staff, four technology policy staff, and two data management and analysis staff. None of those staff would be funded under the current bill, depriving Congress of a non-biased analysis of these critical policy areas,” Reps. Lowey and Wasserman Schultz wrote.

via Congress Isn’t Helping to “Rebuild” CRS.

Budget cut means likely closure of Vermont’s state law library

Law-Library-300x200

A Vermont journalism website reports that cuts to the Vermont Department of Libraries will likely result in the closure of the state law library. The State Librarian says that The law library is “going to disappear.” If it is closed, Vermont would be one of the few in the country without a state law library.

Currently, the bulk of the expenditures of the Law Library pay only for a single librarian and access to Westlaw. Defender General Matt Valerio is quoted as saying, “As a practical matter, in this day and age you can get done what you need to get done without going to the law library,”

Census Bureau to drop 3-Year estimates from American Community Survey (ACS)

It seems as if the Census bureau is dying a slow death of a thousand cuts. This is just the latest cut (and by the way, did anyone notice that this Census press release actually comes from the site “content.govdelivery.com”?!). This seems like a good time to remind folks to read our earlier response to Census budget cuts, “Fear, uncertainty, or doubt? Why the Census and ACS are critical to a well-functioning democracy.”

As a result of tight budgetary considerations, the U.S. Census Bureau has proposed permanently discontinuing a statistical product from the American Community Survey beginning in fiscal year 2016. The product, often called the “3-year estimates,” combines three years of data collection into a three-year rolling average and is available for communities with populations of 20,000 or more.

Although the Census Bureau would discontinue this product, every community in the nation will continue to receive a detailed statistical portrait of its social, economic, housing and demographic characteristics through other American Community Survey products. Specifically, the Census Bureau will continue producing annual estimates for communities of 65,000 or more, and communities of all sizes, including the nation’s smallest, will continue to receive updated five-year rolling averages each year.

The Census Bureau has proposed dropping the three-year product in order to prioritize funding for activities that enhance the quality of the entire data set and enhance the experience for the survey respondent. For example, these activities include additional training for field representatives, continued review of the survey questions and the way they are asked, and expanded outreach and partnership with stakeholders.

Spending plans for fiscal year 2015 are currently under review by the Office of Management and Budget. For more information about the Census Bureau’s fiscal year 2016 budget, please visit OMB’s site.

via Census Bureau Statement on American Community Survey 3-Year Statistical Product.

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