The Data Dilemma-Depoliticize the Facts

By Atchley, Robert C. | Aging Today, September/October 2008 | Go to article overview

The Data Dilemma-Depoliticize the Facts


Atchley, Robert C., Aging Today


Dear Mr. President:

To make sound national decisions, the United States needs reasonably accurate factual assessments of various situations this country faces. Much of our capacity for national self -awareness depends on a robust infrastructure for objective data gathering, data analysis and reporting. Yet under successive federal administrations since the late 1970s, the value our government places on high-quality national information has eroded steadily.

Existing data, analyses and reports have become less accessible to the public as information is stored in files requiring sophisticated computer capacity and software. It is more than a little ironic that in this information society, we increasingly feel like airplane pilots would if instruments started disappearing from their cockpit console, impeding their ability to determine their flying conditions and direction.

Much of this erosion of capability resulted from relentless reductions in staff researchers and data analysts in major information arms of the government, such as the U.S. Census Bureau, Bureau of Labor Statistics and Social Security Administration. Often, the heads of these agencies have been antagonistic toward societal data gathering and analysis, a situation that has prompted an exodus from government of some of our most experienced technical staffers.

In the field of aging, these difficulties are reflected by several trends:

The Social Security Bulletin publishes fewer and fewer analyses concerning the U.S. retirement-income system, particularly regarding how adequately it works for various types of retirees.

Also, for many years, the U.S. Senate published Developments in Aging, which reported on data and analysis from numerous federal departments. …

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