5th August 14:11
Bush's Data Dump: "Disappearing" Bad News - repost
Bush's Data Dump
The administration is hiding bad economic news. Here's how.
By Russ Baker Friday, July 11, 2003, at 12:56 PM PT
President Bush -- Sleight of hand?
The Bush administration is finally facing tough questions about its
selective use of intelligence in selling war with Iraq. But Americans
shouldn't just be skeptical of what the president says about WMD. They
should be skeptical of what he says about GDP. In economic policy even
more than in war policy, the Bushies have successfully suppressed,
manipulated, and withheld evidence to serve their policy purposes.
Of course every administration likes to trumpet its good news and hide
its bad, but what's remarkable about the Bush team is its willingness
to stifle data that had been widely released and to politicize data
that used to be nonpartisan.
The administration muzzles routine economic information that's
unfavorable. Last year, for example, the administration stopped
issuing a monthly Bureau of Labor Statistics report, known as the Mass
Layoff Statistics program, that tracked factory closings throughout
The cancellation was made known on Christmas Eve in a footnote to the
department's final reportQa do***ent that revealed 2,150 mass layoffs
in November, cashiering nearly a quarter-million workers. The
administration claimed the report was a victim of budget cuts. After
the Washington Post happened to catch this bit of data suppression,
the BLS report was reinstated. (Interestingly, President George H.W.
Bush buried these same statistics in '92, also during a period of job
losses. They were revived by President Clinton.)
The Bush economic team has snuffed its own reports when they reach
conclusions that don't match the administration's rosy scenarios. The
administration deep-sixed a study commissioned by then Treasury
Secretary Paul O'Neill that predicts huge budget deficits well into
the future. As noted by the Financial Times in late May, this survey,
which asserted that the baby-boom generation's future health care and
retirement costs would swamp U.S. coffers, was dropped from a 2004
budget summary published in February 2003Qat the same time the White
House was campaigning for a tax-cut package that critics warned would
greatly expand future deficits. "The study's [****ysis of future
deficits] dwarfs previous estimates of the financial challenge facing
The administration also muffled a customary report whose findings
would have forced key corporate supporters to pay more to their
employees. The annual Adverse Effect Wage Rate establishes the minimum
wage that can be paid each year to about 50,000 agricultural "guest
workers" in the H2A Program. From AEWR's 1987 inception until 2000,
the Department of Labor released the report in February.
But in 2001, DOL withheld the wage figure until August, and only
published it after the Farmworker Justice Fund threatened a lawsuit.
In 2002, the DOL held up the report until May, again releasing it only
after the prospect of legal action. The delays helped big agricultural
firms, largely in the tobacco states and the South, by allowing them
to pay their field workers last year's lower wages, saving the
employers millions of dollars. Among those benefiting politically were
Labor Secretary Elaine Chao's husband, Sen. Mitch McConnell of
Kentucky, whose state relies on several thousand guest workers in its
tobacco fields and who receives large contributions from agricultural
Another administration trick is playing with the length of its
economic forecast periods, which puts the best possible face on bad
news while exaggerating the projected benefits of its own initiatives.
For example, to heighten the impression that Social Security is
running out of money (thereby strengthening the case for allowing
workers to divert money from the system into private retirement
accounts), the administration has predicted shortfalls far in the
future by relying on preposterously long forecast periods. In a superb
****ysis of the budget in the June Harper's, Thomas Frank noted that
in 2002 the administration declared an $18 trillion shortfall in
Social Security and Medicare -- about five times the current national
debt. Frank notes that in order to arrive at the $18 trillion figure
-- since Social Security is currently in surplus -- the administration
used a "***ulative seventy-five-year estimate [Frank's
itals] based on extreme long-term projections ... ." Meanwhile, even
as it relies on 75-year projections for Social Security, the same
do***ent replaces traditional 10-year budget projections with
five-year ones, claiming the longer-term numbers were unreliable.
President Bush also politicized the Council of Economic Advisers,
which is supposed to produce straight ****ysis, not administration
spin. CEA staffers complained that top Bush economic adviser Larry
Lindsey, not even a member of the council, encouraged them to produce
data supporting the president's controversial tax cut initiatives. CEA
chairman Glen Hubbard also pushed staffers to find literature
supporting the questionable argument that tax cuts created job growth.
On other occasions, the administration has punished economic officials
who didn't follow the company line. Treasury Secretary O'Neill left
the administration after, among other fits of candor, he expressed
skepticism about economic figures the White House had released and
suggested that the tax cut could be better used to buttress Social
Security. And before Lindsey was made to take a dive, he predicted
that the war in Iraq could cost upwards of $200 billion, a figure that
infuriated the White House, which was selling the anti-Saddam campaign
as a comparatively cheap victory.
Important economic data that casts a bad light on administration
policies has been expunged from government Web sites. The Department
of Labor removed a report showing the real value of the minimum wage
over time, claiming it was "outdated." With no minimum wage hike since
1997, the Web site would have shown minimum-wage workers faring
increasingly poorly under the Bush administration, while their real
income went up under Clinton. (Some subheadings from the report: "Real
Value of the Minimum Wage Continues Decline"; "Minimum Wage Falls
Relative to Average Hourly Earnings"; "Minimum Wage Falls Below
2-Person Family Poverty Threshold.")
Earlier this year, a study predicting mediocre job growth from Bush's
proposed $674 billion economic stimulus plan disappeared from the
Council of Economic Advisers' Web site. The study forecast an average
increase of only 170,000 jobs -- 0.1 percent of the workforce -- every
year through 2007. The study was pulled just after a major Jan. 7 Bush
budget speech to the Economic Club of Chicago. "In the out years, by
their own estimate, their plan is a job and growth killer," says Jared
Bernstein, economist at the Economic Policy Institute. "Instead of
doing what serious ****ysts would do and going to the drawing board to
re-evaluate, they just took the offending do***ent off the Web site."
Certainly, each one of these Bush team moves can be explained:
administrative concerns, government paperwork reduction, outdated
material, etc. ***ulatively, however, they certainly look suspect.
We've seen the future, and it's been deleted.
For Internet Hoaxes: See for instance