Finding Lost U.S. Government Data: "The Lost, and the Found"


BRASS Program, ALA Annual Conference, June 29, 1998

Presentation Outline

Presented by
Michael R. Oppenheim
Reference / Instructional Services Librarian
Rosenfeld Library, The Anderson School at UCLA

History of "The Problem" (the Lost):

  • Who?

    • Largely, the Commerce Department
      • Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA)
      • Census Bureau
      • International Trade Administration (ITA)
    • Also, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)
    • Most statistics-gathering Federal agencies had to make at least some cutbacks due to shrinking funding during the 1990s

  • What, and When?

  • ? Tip:
    Try a search of the Superintendent of Documents'
    List of Classes for both Active and Inactive Status of depository titles at Wichita State University's superb new Documents Data Miner:

    • Business Conditions Digest (BEA); 1961-1990
    • "Business Cycle Indicators" [ Survey of Current Business "Blue Pages"] (BEA); 1949-1994
    • Business Statistics [Biennial Supplement to Survey of Current Business] (BEA); 1951-1992
    • Foreign Economic Trends and Their Implications for the United States (ITA); 1969-1993
    • Handbook of Labor Statistics (BLS); 1926-1989
    • Highlights of U.S. Export and Import Trade ("FT 990") (Census Bureau); 1974-1988
    • Overseas Business Reports (ITA); 1962-1993
    • SEC Monthly Statistical Review (Securities & Exchange Commission); 1942-1989
    • Trade and Employment (Census Bureau/BLS); 1984-1995
    • U.S. Exports, Schedule E, Commodity by Country ("FT 410") (Census Bureau); 1980-1988
    • United States Foreign Trade, Bunker Fuels ("FT 810") (Census Bureau); 1977-1989
    • United States Foreign Trade, U.S. Airborne Exports and General Imports ("FT 986") (Census Bureau); 1977-1990/91
    • U.S. General Imports and Imports for Consumption, Schedule A--Commodity by Country ("FT 135") (Census Bureau); 1982-1988
    • U.S. Industrial Outlook (ITA); 1960-1994

  • Why?

    • "Budgetary constraints" and cutbacks
      • The most common, obvious, "all-purpose" reason (frequently given, in print, by the BEA, for example)
    • Shifts and changes in an agency's mission or priorities
      • Also cited by the BEA, as in its 1995 "Mid-Decade Strategic Plan," and testimony to House Appropriations Committees
      • Prompted by agencies' self-analyses, as well as outside reviews
    • Politics
      • A few years into the first Clinton administration's aggressive promotion of international trade, the "domestically-focused" U.S. Industrial Outlook was no longer "in step" with a world being increasingly dominated by the "big emerging markets."
      • As President Clinton wrote in his "Letter" introducing The Big Emerging Markets: 1996 Outlook and Sourcebook (p. 8):
        • "The Big Emerging Markets Initiative streamlines administration resources to focus on the markets in which government involvement can truly make a difference for America's businesses and workers"
        • "The BEMs Initiative is built on the premise that the private sector is the engine of economic growth, with government playing a supporting role"

The "Found:" Sources "Meta-morphized"

  • The International Trade Administration's
    • Foreign Economic Trends
    • Overseas Business Reports
    became the Country Commercial Guides, found [electronically only] in the National Trade Data Bank/Stat-USA.

The "Found:" Intentionally Privatized

  • Fall 1995: Conference Board wins open bid to take over BEA's Leading Economic Indicators
    • As part of its "self-initiated reinvention," the BEA felt an outside organization could more appropriately handle the job
  • The Indicators are available — largely at no cost — at several electronic locations:

The "Found:" Sources "Reborn" Thanks to Commercial Publishers / Joint Ventures

  • The Role of Bernan Press
    • Business Statistics of the United States (1995- )
      • The "rebirth" of BEA's Business Statistics
      • "A standard work has been made even better. It remains a necessity for any business or economic library."
        -- Bobray Bordelon, 1997 American Reference Books Annual (ARBA), p. 88
    • Handbook of U.S. Labor Statistics (1997- )
      • The "rebirth" of BLS's Handbook of Labor Statistics
    • Editorial Authority
      • Courtney M. Slater ( Business Statistics of the United States) was Chief Economist for the Commerce Department
      • Eva E. Jacobs ( Handbook of U.S. Labor Statistics) served in the Labor Dept. as Chief, Division of Consumer Expenditures
    • Value-Added
      • Incorporation of new and different statistical series
      • Additional technical explanations provided
  • The Role of McGraw-Hill/Standard & Poor's DRI
    • The U.S. Industry & Trade Outlook (1997/98- )
      • Rebirth of the U.S. Industrial Outlook, as a joint venture with the Commerce Department
      • Copies have been distributed to those Selective Federal Depository Libraries which previously selected the USIO
      • Learn all about the USITO in the next presentation!
From Print to …??
  • If the Fed should cease to collect/ tabulate/disseminate "it" — for whatever reasons — who will? who can?
    • Very probably no one was the widespread fear of those horrified by the 1995 Congressional plans to do away with Commerce
  • Consequences of falling out of the "bibliographic jurisdiction" of the Federal Depository Library Program
    • Certain information becomes a restricted-access, high-priced commodity?
    • The ever-present "fugitive documents" problem intensifies?
  • The would-be "Fully Electronic Federal Depository Library Program" — prescription for peril, or partial panacea?
From Print to Electronic: "Lost" in the Translation?
  • The loss of the "Permanent Record:"
    • "The greatest virtue of print is that it provides a historical record."
      -- Joe Morehead, Introduction to United States Government Information Sources (5th ed., 1996), p. 214
  • CD-ROM is an evanescent technology
From Print to Electronic: "Found" in the Translation? (or at least not entirely lost)
  • "Unchanged" by Electronic Format: The Rise of Adobe Acrobat PDF
    • IRS forms and publications
    • Increasingly prominent format for Census Bureau pubs
    • Provides an exact replica of a print document
      • with Web connection & Adobe Acrobat Reader, that is!
    • Format offers no capacity for manipulation
    • Can present downloading problems
  • More Power to Data Users:
  • Innovative "translation" from academe:
    • Oregon State University's Government Information Sharing Project
      • Currently includes (& not limited to!) for business/economics:
        • 1992 Economic Census (Discs 1J, 2A, and 4)
        • Census of Agriculture (1982, 1987, 1992)
        • Equal Employment Opportunity File: 1990
        • USA Counties 1996
  • A second innovative "translation" from academe:
    • University of Virginia Social Sciences Data Center
      • Includes (and is not limited to!) unrestricted, interactive access to:
        • County and City Data Books (1988 and 1994 editions)
        • County Business Patterns (at 2-digit SIC level, 1977-1995)
        • BEA's National Income and Product Accounts (1959 to current)
        • BEA's Regional Economic Information System (1969-1996)
        • State Personal Income (estimates for 1958-1996)
        • U.S. Imports and Exports (historical summaries for 1989-1996)
From Print to Electronic: Enhancements "Found" in the Translation
  • Flexibility / "Manipulatibility" of Electronic Data:
    • Downloading
    • Exporting
    • Cutting and pasting
    • E-mailing
  • In PDF format, an exact replica of the original text, anywhere a Web connection with Adobe Acrobat Reader (still free, at the moment!) is available.
  • Electronic data can be
    • released more frequently, and in "real time"
    • updated more easily and frequently
    • accessed by more than one user at a time
Concluding (or Transitional) Thoughts
  • Bibliographic Control: Under, or Out of?
    • Will probably always be a little of both (and sometimes a lot)
  • GPO Does Care — A Great Deal
    • The FDLP Partnerships Program
    • PURLs in the MoCat
      • "Persistent," or "Permanent" URLs
      • An Internet "collection-management" tool/work-in-progress, designed to keep government information from ever getting lost again!

bullet Finding Lost U.S. Government Data: Collection Development Strategies for the Business Librarian
BRASS Program, ALA Annual Conference, June 29, 1998

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