IN DECIDING to reappoint Janet Norwood as commissioner of labor statistics, the administration has retained the services of a highly competent professional at the head of its principal economic fact-finding agency. It has also reaffirmed its commitment to the integrity of the nation's basic economic indicators.
When President Reagan first came to office, there was a certain concern that his administration, with its strong ideological bent, would neglect or even try to manipulate the government's statistical programs. The president rekindles that fear from time to time by deprecating the statistical agencies' "funny way of counting"--by which he means their adjustments in economic indicators for seasonal changes and labor market flows. He is glad enough to accept these adjustments when they work in his favor, as when the withdrawal of large numbers of people from the labor force kept the unemployment rate below 11 percent earlier this year. Now that these discouraged workers are trickling back to the labor market he is complaining that the numbers don't give him full credit for his economic successes. 4 The president's economic advisers, however, have wisely refrained from manipulating the statistics for political purposes. The statistical agencies have taken their share of budget cuts, but most of them--including, notably, Mrs. Norwood's Bureau of Labor Statistics--have been able to preserve the integrity of the most important data series by increasing program efficiency and phasing out less important series even when these were supported by vocal constituencies.
Most encouraging is the recent interest of the Office of Management and Budget in improving statistics needed to track the structural changes the economy is now weathering. Funds included in the 1984 budget will support work by the BLS, the Census Bureau and other agencies needed to update and improve information on prices, wages, income and the growth of the economy's service sector. For an administration interested in promoting economic growth, there is no more important investment than improving the numbers that guide economic decisions and chart the economy's progress.