US Lacks Essential Data to Develop and Implement a National Strategy for Advanced Technologies; Congress Should Properly Fund and Modernize Federal Statistical Agencies

July 1, 2021

WASHINGTON—Years of budget constraints have left federal statistical agencies with insufficient resources to measure key elements of the U.S. economy. Yet effective data collection—particularly on firms, industries, and technologies—is a prerequisite for developing strategic economic intelligence and policies to spur growth and competitiveness. A new report released today by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), the leading think tank for science and technology policy, calls on Congress to fill the statistical gap by making a one-time appropriation as part of a national infrastructure plan to fully modernize and expand the IT systems of federal statistical agencies. Policymakers should increase annual funding on an ongoing basis.

“The federal government has never felt the need to develop strategic economic intelligence to fully understand the competitive position of its traded sectors or to help support overall economic productivity—and that is wrong,” said ITIF President Robert D. Atkinson, who authored the report. “No companies make strategic or tactical decisions without detailed data on revenues, costs, and their competitive landscapes. Yet, we expect policymakers to build economic, technology and competitiveness policy on a shaky foundation of limited and often outdated information.” 

The ITIF report lists three key areas with major statistical gaps: subnational data on state and local economic differences; international data to inform policymakers on the ever-expanding global economy; and data to better understand firm behavior at the enterprise and establishment level. 

With the rise of China and other economic competitors, ITIF has previously argued that the United States must develop and implement a national advanced industry and technology strategy—and create a new, free-standing agency solely dedicated to carrying out that mission. Effectively crafting and implementing such plans requires the right kind of economic data. Therefore, Congress should at least double the funding devoted to economic statistics to ensure federal statistical agencies have the resources they need to produce timely data.  

“It’s time for Congress to make a major investment in upgrading, expanding, and modernizing our nation’s economic statistical system,” said Atkinson. “This will help policymakers understand America’s position on key technologies and industries, as well as key strengths and weaknesses, and where specific policies are still needed. Last, but not least, this measure will help U.S. businesses make better decisions.” 

Read the report.