Former Labor Statistics Chief Warns Trump Against Budget Cuts

Agency that prepares vital jobs numbers “may be headed toward failure,” she writes in op-ed.

Congress is preparing severe budget cuts in the Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, according to an op-ed published on Friday in The Wall Street Journal.

BLS “may be headed toward failure,” wrote Erica L. Groshen, who from 2013-2017 ran the agency that prepares, among other metrics, the politically sensitive monthly job creation numbers. “Imagine a jobs report that contains consequential errors or is late by hours or days” caused by staff cuts that are rumored to be coming out of Congress, she wrote.

As a candidate in 2016, President Trump mocked the bureau for producing “phony numbers,” though his attitude changed in March when the numbers for February—Trump’s first full month in office—were healthy.

The BLS annual budget of $609 million is “less than $2 per U.S. resident and not even 0.02 percent of the federal budget," Groshen wrote. 

“The BLS’s only presidential appointee is the commissioner, who never sees the agency’s data until it is final,” she stated. “All other employees are career civil servants, mostly economists and information-technology specialists. In other words, the BLS isn’t a political body.”

Even under the Obama administration, BLS shrunk, she added. “The International Labor Comparisons program helped put America’s economic performance in a global context. The Mass Layoff Statistics program tracked major employment cutbacks. Both were dropped in 2013,” the op-ed noted. “This underfunding isn’t sustainable. Even holding the BLS budget flat at its 2016 level would provide $25 million less than needed to continue current activity.”

So far, Groshen added, few members Congress or business leaders are sticking up for the targeted agency. The only groups to “raise a ruckus” are academics, think tanks, professional associations and state and local officials.

Groshen warned that without BLS’ “objective data, produced using transparent, state-of-the-art methods” on many aspects of the U.S. economy, “Americans could experience the economic equivalent of flying blind.”