Smart proposal to unify U.S. statistical agencies in the Department of Commerce: Erica L. Groshen and Robert M. Groves: Op-Ed: "We depend largely on three professional government agencies: the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Bureau of Economic Analysis and the Census Bureau...

...Yet for decades the work of these agencies has been hampered by laws and regulations constraining their performance. The agencies aren’t allowed to share data with each other to produce statistics, so they release information that is often inconsistent, and they cannot improve it by combining forces. Each must survey the same businesses. Each builds and maintains a costly information infrastructure uniquely designed to conduct its computational and privacy-protecting work. Most other countries have organized their statistical work to produce more harmony and integration. Over many decades, expert panel after expert panel, convened by Congress or the president, has recommended that these agencies be permitted to cooperate. Little has happened.

President Trump’s new reorganization plan proposes a solution that merits serious bipartisan consideration. It would move the Bureau of Labor Statistics—the source of statistics on jobs, wages, working conditions, productivity and prices—from the Labor Department to the Commerce Department. There, it would become a sister agency to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, which tracks gross domestic product, personal income, international transactions, and corporate profits. It also would become a sister agency to the Census Bureau, which tracks population, wholesale and retail sales, manufacturing inventories and sales, residential construction, service sector activity, and homeownership. With the three principal economic statistics-producing agencies in the same home and current legal and regulatory barriers eliminated, real efficiencies could be gained and data quality could be improved.

First, the agencies could share an advanced computational infrastructure. Second, they could coordinate their data requests from businesses, lightening the burden on respondents. Third, the agencies could coordinate work to improve estimates of productivity, trade and service-industry activities and could address emerging issues such as the digital economy. All these advances would provide Americans better information to make economic decisions.

We think this proposal’s benefits are clear, and we urge Congress to give it serious consideration. Yet we must be mindful that a democracy needs legal protections that require the production of objective statistics without political interference. All three agencies have this protection now; they need to retain it when reorganized.