LURKING IN THE PAGES of the March 15 Federal Register is an innocuous-sounding proposal that would destroy important and useful government services. We're referring to a proposal by the Office of Management and Budget to cut down on the government's statistical programs. Henceforth, say the OMB numbers-crunchers, federal agencies should disseminate information only if it's required by law or if it's "essential" to the agency's mission.
To see what's wrong with that, take a specific case: the Monthly Labor Review, published for 70 years now, which OMB tried unsuccessfully to zero out of this year's budget and which will be forced to publish only four times a year rather than 12 under the administration's 1986 budget. If the Monthly Labor Review can be cut back or destroyed on grounds that it's something less than essential to the Department of Labor's mission, it's hard to see almost any publication that would survive.
The most recent Monthly Labor Review has articles on such vital subjects as the cyclical behavior of high-tech industries, cost inflation in manufacturing industries and the future of wage indexation in labor contracts. Its intellectual standards are high, and it is rigorously independent. It provides much useful data available nowhere else. Much the same can be said about dozens of other government publications and statistics, for there have been cuts, and some harmful ones, in government statistic- gathering throughout the Reagan administration.
Some argue that such statistics and reports can be assembled by the burgeoning number of private companies that assemble government data by computer and disseminate it for profit. But that doesn't help when some basic information is simply no longer gathered by government agencies. Nor are such companies likely to provide a substitute for useful ongoing institutions such as the Monthly Labor Review.
The government and the public need more and better, not less and more expensive, statistical information. The amounts that can be saved by OMB's proposals are nickels and dimes. The things that could be destroyed are gold. We put to the side a thought that has crossed some people's minds: that the administration is trying to suppress statistics and information that could be politically inconvenient. Let's just say that what they're doing is wrongheaded, and should be stopped.