Two stat relevant segments on today's show, one on Obama email marketing and another on mining online data. Good stuff.
The Future is Slippery
1 hour ago
Comments, observations and thoughts from two left coast bloggers on applied statistics, higher education and epidemiology. Joseph is a new assistant professor. Mark is a marketing statistician and former math teacher.
This is a great case study in rhetorical strategies. But the analysis is admirably clear. Wal-Mart's profit margins, though by no means enormous, are larger than those of its main competitors. Given the weak national labor market, Wal-Mart has no reason to cough up extra money to its workforce. But a strong labor union could coerce them into coughing up higher pay and bringing their margins in line with Costco and Macy's. As a result, each Wal-Mart employee might get a bit less than $3,000 more a year. Whether that's "life-changing" or not is an interesting question, but since we're talking about low-wage workers here, I think the intuitions of highly paid professionals may be a bit off. It seems very plausible that the marginal hedonic value of a thousand bucks or three to Wal-Mart's workforce would be very large.
The average Walmart "associate," Wake Up Walmart reports, makes $11.75 an hour. That's $20,744 per year. Those wages are slightly below the national average for retail employees, which is $12.04 an hour. They also produce annual earnings that, in a one-earner household, are below the $22,000 poverty line.So a $3,000/year hike in wages would, conservatively, be a 15% increase in pay. That would leave prices unchanged and reset the margins at Walmart to that of Macy's (hardly a disaster in the making to have margins at this level). If the average employee makes more like $14,000 (another plausible estimate) then the pay rise is even steeper. At these pay levels, a few thousand a year can be a life changing event, given the number of fixed expenses in life.
Again, the 14-year Hostess bakery veteran: “Remember how I said I made $48,000 in 2005 and $34,000 last year? I would make $25,000 in five years if I took their offer. It will be hard to replace the job I had, but it will be easy to replace the job they were trying to give me.”One thing that is easy to overlook in the discussion of did Unions show inflexibility is that a 50% wage cut over less than 10 years is an amazing drop in nominal wage (and the initial drop from 30,000 to 19,000 employees). Mark's piece has pointed out that management was not doing any of the obvious moves to try save the business. While the actual pattern of executive compensation is slightly more complicated than early reports indicated, it is pretty clear that huge (long term) wage cuts were not envisioned in the executive suite.
Let's get a few things clear. Hostess didn't fail for any of the reasons you've been fed. It didn't fail because Americans demanded more healthful food than its Twinkies and Ho-Hos snack cakes. It didn't fail because its unions wanted it to die.
It failed because the people that ran it had no idea what they were doing. Every other excuse is just an attempt by the guilty to blame someone else.
Hostess management's efforts to blame union intransigence for the company's collapse persisted right through to the Thanksgiving eve press release announcing Hostess' liquidation, when it cited a nationwide strike by bakery workers that "crippled its operations."
That overlooks the years of union givebacks and management bad faith. Example: Just before declaring bankruptcy for the second time in eight years Jan. 11, Hostess trebled the compensation of then-Chief Executive Brian Driscoll and raised other executives' pay up to twofold. At the same time, the company was demanding lower wages from workers and stiffing employee pension funds of $8 million a month in payment obligations.
Hostess management hasn't been able entirely to erase the paper trail pointing to its own derelictions. Consider a 163-page affidavit filed as part of the second bankruptcy petition.
There Driscoll outlined a "Turnaround Plan" to get the firm back on its feet. The steps included closing outmoded plants and improving the efficiency of those that remain; upgrading the company's "aging vehicle fleet" and merging its distribution warehouses for efficiency; installing software at the warehouses to allow it to track inventory; and closing unprofitable retail stores. It also proposed to restore its advertising budget and establish an R&D program to develop new products to "maintain existing customers and attract new ones."
None of these steps, Driscoll attested, required consultation with the unions. That raises the following question: You mean to tell me that as of January 2012, Hostess still hadn't gotten around to any of this?
The company had known for a decade or more that its market was changing, but had done nothing to modernize its product line or distribution system. Its trucks were breaking down. It was keeping unprofitable stores open and having trouble figuring out how to move inventory to customers and when. It had cut back advertising and marketing to the point where it was barely communicating with customers. It had gotten hundreds of millions of dollars in concessions from its unions, and spent none of it on these essential improvements.
The true recent history of Hostess can be excavated from piles of public filings from its two bankruptcy cases. To start with, the company has had six CEOs in the last 10 years, which is not exactly a precondition for consistent and effective corporate strategizing.
Hostess first entered bankruptcy in 2004, when it was known as Interstate Bakeries. During its five years in Chapter 11, the firm obtained concessions from its unions worth $110 million a year. The unions accepted layoffs that brought the workforce down to about 19,000 from more than 30,000. There were cuts in wages, pension and health benefits. The Teamsters committed to negotiations over changes in antiquated work rules. The givebacks helped reduce Hostess' labor costs to the point where they were roughly equal to or even lower than some of its major competitors'.
But the firm emerged from bankruptcy with more debt than when it went in — in with $575 million, out with $774 million, all secured by company assets. That's pretty much the opposite of what's supposed to happen in bankruptcy. By the end, there was barely a spare distributor cap in the motor pool that wasn't mortgaged to the private equity firms and hedge funds holding the notes (and also appointing management).
The post-bankruptcy leadership never executed a growth strategy. It failed to introduce a significant new product or acquire a single new brand. It lagged on bakery automation and product R&D, while rivals such as Bimbo Bakeries USA built research facilities and hired food scientists to keep their product lines fresh. At the time of the 2004 bankruptcy, Hostess was three times the size of Bimbo. Today it's less than half Bimbo's size. (Bimbo, which has been acquiring bakeries such as Sara Lee and Entenmann's right and left, might well end up with Hostess' brands.)
HP has become the place where synergies go to die. In its earnings release today, HP said it has taken an $8.8 billion writedown, caused by what it calls “serious accounting improprieties” at Autonomy, a software company it acquired for $11 billion in August 2011. This, as David Benoit notes, is HP’s second acquisition-related $8 billion writedown of the year.I love the phrase "flexible definition."
HP is furiously pointing fingers: in a statement, the company said there was a “willful effort on behalf of certain former Autonomy employees to inflate the underlying financial metrics”. And CEO Meg Whitman told analysts that Deloitte had signed off on Autonomy’s accounts, with KPMG signing off on Deloitte. Still, only $5 billion of this quarter’s write down came from Autonomy’s accounting; the rest came from those pesky “headwinds against anticipated synergies and marketplace performance”.
There’s a strong case that HP should have smelled a rat. Bryce Elder points to “a decade’s worth of research questioning Autonomy’s revenue recognition, organic growth and seemingly flexible definition of a contract sale”. Then there’s the scathing statement which came about a month after the HP sale, in which Oracle revealed that it too had looked at Autonomy, but considered the company’s $6 billion market value to be “extremely over-priced”. Lynch, for his part, says that he was “ambushed” by the allegations.
Michael Hogan, CEO of A.D. Makepeace, a large cranberry grower based in Wareham, says for now cranberries are still a viable crop in Massachusetts. But climate change is making it much tougher to grow there.I know we've been over this before, but it gets harder and harder to see how a cost/benefit analysis of climate change don't support immediate implementation of a carbon tax.or something similar.
"We're having warmer springs, we're having higher incidences of pests and fungus and we're having warmer falls when we need to have cooler nights," Hogan says.
Those changing conditions are costing growers like Makepeace money. The company has to use more water to irrigate in the hotter summers, and to cover the berries in spring and fall to protect them from frosts.
They're also spending more on fuel to run irrigation pumps, and have invested heavily in technology to monitor the bogs more closely. It's also meant more fungicides and fruit rot.
"Because of the percentage of rot that was delivered to Ocean Spray, they paid us $2 a barrel less," Hogan says. "We delivered 370,000 barrels last year. So you're talking about millions of dollars."
Cranberries also need a certain number of "chilling hours" to ensure that deep red color. Glen Reid, assistant manager of cranberry operations for A.D. Makepeace, says that's a problem as well.
"The berries actually need cold nights to color up," Reid says. "Last year we had a big problem with coloring up the berries. We had a lot more white berries."
Some growers in the Northeast have already moved some cranberry production to chillier climates, like eastern Canada. Ocean Spray has started growing cranberries on a new farm in the province of New Brunswick.
Makepeace's Hogan is even considering Chile, which apparently has a favorable climate for growing the North American berry.
When Oster was expecting her first child, she felt powerless to make the right decisions for her pregnancy. How doctors think and what patients need are two very different things. So Oster drew on her own experience and went in search of the real facts about pregnancy using an economist’s tools. Economics is not just a study of finance. It’s the science of determining value and making informed decisions. To make a good decision, you need to understand the information available to you and to know what it means to you as an individual.So, when applied to a medical topic (like pregnancy) how does this differ from evidence based medicine? Should I be calling myself an economist?
We discovered that about two-thirds of the ninth-grade academic achievement gap between disadvantaged youngsters and their more advantaged peers can be explained by what happens over the summer during the elementary school years.Mike goes on to point out the obvious question this raises about the fire-the-teachers approach to education reform.
I also want to point out that the higher performing group isn’t necessarily high income, but simply better off. In the context of the Baltimore City school system, that usually means solidly middle class, with parents who are likely to have gone to college versus dropping out.
Statistically, lower income children begin school with lower achievement scores, but during the school year, they progress at about the same rate as their peers. Over the summer, it’s a dramatically different story. During the summer months, disadvantaged children tread water at best or even fall behind. It’s what we call “summer slide” or “summer setback.” But better off children build their skills steadily over the summer months. The pattern was definite and dramatic. It was quite a revelation.
Hart and Risley also found that, in the first four years after birth, the average child from a professional family receives 560,000 more instances of encouraging feedback than discouraging feedback; a working- class child receives merely 100,000 more encouragements than discouragements; a welfare child receives 125,000 more discouragements than encouragements.
In 2005 it was another contract year and this time there was no way out of concessions. The Union negotiated a deal that would save the company $150 million a year in labor. It was a tough internal battle to get people to vote for it. We turned it down twice. Finally the Union told us it was in our best interest and something had to give. So many of us, including myself, changed our votes and took the offer. Remember that next time you see CEO Rayburn on tv stating that we haven't sacrificed for this company. The company then emerged from bankruptcy. In 2005 before concessions I made $48,000, last year I made $34,000. My pay changed dramatically but at least I was still contributing to my self-funded pension.
In July of 2011 we received a letter from the company. It said that the $3+ per hour that we as a Union contribute to the pension was going to be 'borrowed' by the company until they could be profitable again. Then they would pay it all back. The Union was notified of this the same time and method as the individual members. No contact from the company to the Union on a national level.
This money will never be paid back. The company filed for bankruptcy and the judge ruled that the $3+ per hour was a debt the company couldn't repay. The Union continued to work despite this theft of our self-funded pension contributions for over a year. I consider this money stolen. No other word in the English language describes what they have done to this money.This illustrates a couple of things. One is that defined contribution pensions (i.e. the 401(k) and other such vehicles) are not necessarily a safe harbor from corporate games if something like this can happen without the union proactively agreeing. Two, the concessions made by the unions were pretty significant. They took pretty large pay cuts (29%) and lost additional money from the pension fund. No manager who made the decision to borrow this money was held liable.
The problems at Hostess have been decades in the making. The company went into bankruptcy in 2004 and left in 2009 with numerous labor concessions, but without major reform to the pension system. Some people liked to blame that on the unions, but it is up to management to decide what is profitable or unprofitable. Now three years later, management has deemed their old agreements aren't profitable and that would be correct given how much money Hostess has been bleeding. And people still wonder why some union leaders were skeptical of management.
Skepticism is warranted, especially in light of Hostess having left bankruptcy in 2009 with more debt than it had in 2004 with falling sales. 2011 sales were down 28% from 2004. Of course, this is the union's fault that sales have dropped and not a failure of the company's leadership.
On top of that, management comes to the labor unions demanding 8% pay cuts and slashes to the pension, while the top executives increase their own pay--what a nice goodwill gesture. Some unsecured creditors actually filed suit over the pay raises.
Yes, pensions and work issues needed to be addressed. The unions had to make concessions, but it's difficult in light of what has happened for anyone to have any faith in what management has been doing at Hostess.
Now, enter two hedge funds, who hold the majority of secured debt, and they're likely looking to get out. After all, the business model isn't working; it's time for a showdown.
The Teamsters actually finally agreed to the wage and benefit concessions. Some of the other unions, including the Bakers' Union, didn't. Of course, I have a suspicion that some of the unions were acting in the best interest of all their union workers and not the union workers who were working at Hostess. Though, I also have suspicions that even if the unions capitulated to the hedge fund demands (they're the ones driving the show), Hostess would have likely been sold or have been back in bankruptcy in a few years.
The other day a Republican political veteran forwarded me a hiring notice from the Obama 2012 campaign. It read like politics as done by Martians. The "Analytics Department" is looking for "predictive Modeling/Data Mining" specialists to join the campaign's "multi-disciplinary team of statisticians," which will use "predictive modeling" to anticipate the behavior of the electorate.It might seem that, after the last thousand or so Noonan columns, pointing out flaws in the latest entry is coals-to-Newcastle. This is, after all, the pundit who told us the day before the election that Romney was on track to win because "all the vibrations are right." (She said a lot of other memorable things in that column. You really ought to check it out.)
Sicko is about America's health care system, and the alternatives. Before I saw Sicko, I believed the common line that, for all its flaws, America's health care system was "the best in the world". After I saw the movie, I did not believe anything of the kind. Sicko opened my eyes to the existence of Britain's National Health Service; after watching the movie, I looked into the NHS, and found that it achieves better results than the U.S. on almost any outcome measure, for far fewer costs. Importantly, it does this using a rational incentive system - doctors are paid for improving the health of their patients, not for recommending large numbers of expensive services.This really highlights the central dilemma facing US medical care. It is really expensive and it has very mediocre outcomes at a population level. It is possible that some people get exceptional medical care beyond that available elsewhere. And it is true that putting a lot of resources into a sector does tend to drive advances in that sector. My own person question is whether this is the best way to drive medical innovation; could targeted research money do more good on innovation than paying more for physician office visits?
I'm not sure, but around the same time that I stopped believing that America had the best health system in the world, I noticed that other people stopped saying it (and in fact started saying the opposite!). Around the same time I started thinking that Britain's NHS is the best alternative, I noticed a lot of policy-wonkish people praising that system in the press. Around the same time I started realizing the insanity of the "fee for service" incentive system, everyone started talking about it. So I wonder if Sicko, rather than just changing my mind, actually changed the whole national conversation
The claim that high pay is necessary to attract and motivate good workers is not merely an economic postulate. If it were, it could apply across the wage distribution. Instead, it functions as a defence of inequality - used to justify higher pay for the rich, rather than for any job. For grunt workers, wages are a cost to be minimized regardless of consequence.This is a really good point; if wages for managers were treated like an expense for the company (instead of as an investment in talent) then would we have seen manger salaries rise so far in recent years?
Megan McArdle argues that surging costs are as much a consequence as they are a cause of unprecedented levels of student debt, spurred on by government subsidies. But Mike Konczal flags a Department of Education study that shows that the government earns $1.14 back for every dollar it loans to students and asks, “What’s a good word for the opposite of a subsidy? Whatever it is, student loans are that”.This really seems to be a major problem with the modern discourse on education. We are all convinced that there has to be some sort of amazing (clever, counter-intuitive) theory about why tuition is going up. Bad policy, on the other hand, seems to be completely ignored. But if the government is making a net profit off of student loans, that seems to be rather concerning. Not because I object to profit, but because the loans are so high.
In fact, Social Security is NOT in crisis. If we hiked payroll taxes by two percentage points we would probably take care of the payroll tax deficit. Yes, that’s a regressive tax and we should be cautious about doing it. But our long-run budget problems are mostly in health care. Why the unearthly fascination with cutting Social Security?I mean, seriously, why is it such conventional wisdom that it needs to be reformed? It is true that a private alternative would be a great revenue center for finance types. But a lot of things would be great revenue sources that we don't privatize for good reason (Police, Military), either because it would be inefficient or because only the government can guarentee long term contracts like those required for retirement in 45 years.
All statisticians use prior information in their statistical analysis. Non-Bayesians express their prior information not through a probability distribution on parameters but rather through their choice of methods. I think this non-Bayesian attitude is too restrictive, but in this case a small amount of reflection would reveal the inappropriateness of this procedure for this example.I had never phrased things like this but it does seem to be a sensible description of what I (essentially a Frequentist) actually do in real life. This may be a very good teaching point and it nicely illustrates that all analysis involves priors -- just that some are more explicit than others.
FOLKENFLIK: But if Florida stays blue, Silver will have picked every state correctly, along with the president's margin of victory. Conservative columnist John Podhoretz of the New York Post and Commentary magazine had earlier argued pollsters were getting it wrong by ignoring the high turnout by Republicans in the 2010 elections that swept the GOP into control of the U.S. House. The 2012 race would be the same, Podhoretz argued, quite mistakenly, as it turned out.
JOHN PODHORETZ: That view was strengthened and amplified by what I wanted to happen, which I freely confess. People don't ordinarily cast a skeptical eye on data and information that supports their opinions. They're happy to take it.
“Most of the polls I ‘unskewed’ were based on samples that generally included about five or six or seven percent more Democrats than Republicans, and I doubted and questioned the results of those polls, and then ‘unskewed’ them based on my belief that a nearly equal percentage of Democrats and Republicans would turn out in the actual election this year,” Chambers wrote on The Examiner website. “I was wrong on that assumption and those who predicted a turnout model of five or six percent in favor of Democrats were right. Likewise, the polling numbers they produced going on that assumption turned out to be right and my ‘unskewed’ numbers were off the mark.”
RAZ: The popular vote. Yeah. Interestingly, when you asked voters who they think will win, 52 percent say Obama, just 32 percent say Romney.
KOHUT: Yes. That has been pretty consistent through this election. Obama is seen by average voters as the likely winner of the next election. That's another measure that's been a pretty good indicator of who will win the election. That is the candidate that the electorate thinks will win generally does win.
Regarding dumping money into non-competitive states, here in Dallas nearly every other commercial is an anti-Obama ad from the superPAC, “Restore our Future.” I’m trying to figure out why they’re dumping so much money into the Texas ad market when I’d assume Texas is about as solidly red as it gets. I have two theories:
1. It’s to build up GOP enthusiasm for down-ticket races.This reminded me of the Stag Hunt game where players have to decide whether to stick with a group in hopes of a big pay-off that's dependent on cooperation or go off on their own for a smaller but more likely pay-off.
2. They need to spend some of their donations on something other than lining their own pockets to help keep people from realizing they’re nothing but grifters who have been lining their own pockets with all that political donation money.
[D]ue to pressure from Republicans, the Congressional Research Service is withdrawing a report that showed the lack of correlation between high end tax cuts and economic growth.And with Sandy still on everyone's mind, here's something from Menzie Chinn:
The study, by economist Tom Hungerford, is of high quality, and is one I’ve cited here at OTE. Its findings are fairly common in the economics literature and the concerns raised by that noted econometrician Mitch McConnell are trumped up and bogus. He and his colleagues don’t like the findings because they strike at the supply-side arguments that they hold so dear.
NOAA's programs are in function 300, Natural Resources and Environment, along with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and a range of conservation and natural resources programs. In the near term, function 300 would be 14.6 percent lower in 2014 in the Ryan budget according to the Washington Post. It quotes David Kendall of The Third Way as warning about the potential impact on weather forecasting: "'Our weather forecasts would be only half as accurate for four to eight years until another polar satellite is launched,' estimates Kendall. 'For many people planning a weekend outdoors, they may have to wait until Thursday for a forecast as accurate as one they now get on Monday. … Perhaps most affected would be hurricane response. Governors and mayors would have to order evacuations for areas twice as large or wait twice as long for an accurate forecast.'"There are also attempts from prominent conservatives to delegitimize objective data:
Apparently, Jack Welch, former chairman and CEO of General Electric, is accusing the Bureau of Labor Statistics of manipulating the jobs report to help President Obama. Others seem to be adding their voices to this slanderous lie. It is simply outrageous to make such a claim and echoes the worrying general distrust of facts that seems to have swept segments of our nation. The BLS employment report draws on two surveys, one (the establishment survey) of 141,000 businesses and government agencies and the other (the household survey) of 60,000 households. The household survey is done by the Census Bureau on behalf of BLS. It’s important to note that large single-month divergences between the employment numbers in these two surveys (like the divergence in September) are just not that rare. EPI’s Elise Gould has a great paper on the differences between these two surveys.We can also put many of the attacks against Nate Silver in this category.
BLS is a highly professional agency with dozens of people involved in the tabulation and analysis of these data. The idea that the data are manipulated is just completely implausible. Moreover, the data trends reported are clearly in line with previous monthly reports and other economic indicators (such as GDP). The key result was the 114,000 increase in payroll employment from the establishment survey, which was right in line with what forecasters were expecting. This was a positive growth in jobs but roughly the amount to absorb a growing labor force and maintain a stable, not falling, unemployment rate. If someone wanted to help the president, they should have doubled the job growth the report showed. The household survey was much more positive, showing unemployment falling from 8.1 percent to 7.8 percent. These numbers are more volatile month to month and it wouldn’t be surprising to see unemployment rise a bit next month. Nevertheless, there’s nothing implausible about the reported data. The household survey has shown greater job growth in the recovery than the establishment survey throughout the recovery. The labor force participation rate (the share of adults who are working or unemployed) increased to 63.6 percent, which is an improvement from the prior month but still below the 63.7 percent reported for July. All in all, there was nothing particularly strange about this month’s jobs reports—and certainly nothing to spur accusations of outright fraud.
The House Committee on Appropriations recently proposed cutting the Census budget to $878 million, $10 million below its current budget and $91 million less than the bureau’s request for the next fiscal year. Included in the committee number is a $20 million cut in funding for this year’s Economic Census, considered the foundation of U.S. economic statistics.And Bruce Bartlett had a whole set of examples involving Newt Gingrich:
On Nov. 21, Newt Gingrich, who is leading the race for the Republican presidential nomination in some polls, attacked the Congressional Budget Office. In a speech in New Hampshire, Mr. Gingrich said the C.B.O. "is a reactionary socialist institution which does not believe in economic growth, does not believe in innovation and does not believe in data that it has not internally generated."
Mr. Gingrich's charge is complete nonsense. The former C.B.O. director Douglas Holtz-Eakin, now a Republican policy adviser, labeled the description "ludicrous." Most policy analysts from both sides of the aisle would say the C.B.O. is one of the very few analytical institutions left in government that one can trust implicitly.
It's precisely its deep reservoir of respect that makes Mr. Gingrich hate the C.B.O., because it has long stood in the way of allowing Republicans to make up numbers to justify whatever they feel like doing.
Mr. Gingrich has long had special ire for the C.B.O. because it has consistently thrown cold water on his pet health schemes, from which he enriched himself after being forced out as speaker of the House in 1998. In 2005, he wrote an op-ed article in The Washington Times berating the C.B.O., then under the direction of Mr. Holtz-Eakin, saying it had improperly scored some Gingrich-backed proposals. At a debate on Nov. 5, Mr. Gingrich said, "If you are serious about real health reform, you must abolish the Congressional Budget Office because it lies."
Because Mr. Gingrich does know more than most politicians, the main obstacles to his grandiose schemes have always been Congress's professional staff members, many among the leading authorities anywhere in their areas of expertise.
To remove this obstacle, Mr. Gingrich did everything in his power to dismantle Congressional institutions that employed people with the knowledge, training and experience to know a harebrained idea when they saw it. When he became speaker in 1995, Mr. Gingrich moved quickly to slash the budgets and staff of the House committees, which employed thousands of professionals with long and deep institutional memories.
Of course, when party control in Congress changes, many of those employed by the previous majority party expect to lose their jobs. But the Democratic committee staff members that Mr. Gingrich fired in 1995 weren't replaced by Republicans. In essence, the positions were simply abolished, permanently crippling the committee system and depriving members of Congress of competent and informed advice on issues that they are responsible for overseeing.
Mr. Gingrich sold his committee-neutering as a money-saving measure. How could Congress cut the budgets of federal agencies if it wasn't willing to cut its own budget, he asked. In the heady days of the first Republican House since 1954, Mr. Gingrich pretty much got whatever he asked for.
In addition to decimating committee budgets, he also abolished two really useful Congressional agencies, the Office of Technology Assessment and the Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations. The former brought high-level scientific expertise to bear on legislative issues and the latter gave state and local governments an important voice in Congressional deliberations.
The amount of money involved was trivial even in terms of Congress's budget. Mr. Gingrich's real purpose was to centralize power in the speaker's office, which was staffed with young right-wing zealots who followed his orders without question. Lacking the staff resources to challenge Mr. Gingrich, the committees could offer no resistance and his agenda was simply rubber-stamped.
Unfortunately, Gingrichism lives on. Republican Congressional leaders continually criticize every Congressional agency that stands in their way. In addition to the C.B.O., one often hears attacks on the Congressional Research Service, the Joint Committee on Taxation and the Government Accountability Office.
Lately, the G.A.O. has been the prime target. Appropriators are cutting its budget by $42 million, forcing furloughs and cutbacks in investigations that identify billions of dollars in savings yearly. So misguided is this effort that Senator Tom Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma and one of the most conservative members of Congress, came to the agency's defense.
In a report issued by his office on Nov. 16, Senator Coburn pointed out that the G.A.O.'s budget has been cut by 13 percent in real terms since 1992 and its work force reduced by 40 percent -- more than 2,000 people. By contrast, Congress's budget has risen at twice the rate of inflation and nearly doubled to $2.3 billion from $1.2 billion over the last decade.
Mr. Coburn's report is replete with examples of budget savings recommended by G.A.O. He estimated that cutting its budget would add $3.3 billion a year to government waste, fraud, abuse and inefficiency that will go unidentified.
For good measure, Mr. Coburn included a chapter in his report on how Congressional committees have fallen down in their responsibility to exercise oversight. The number of hearings has fallen sharply in both the House and Senate. Since the beginning of the Gingrich era, they have fallen almost in half, with the biggest decline coming in the 104th Congress (1995-96), his first as speaker.
In short, Mr. Gingrich's unprovoked attack on the C.B.O. is part of a pattern. He disdains the expertise of anyone other than himself and is willing to undercut any institution that stands in his way. Unfortunately, we are still living with the consequences of his foolish actions as speaker.
We could really use the Office of Technology Assessment at a time when Congress desperately needs scientific expertise on a variety of issues in involving health, energy, climate change, homeland security and many others. And given the enormous stress suffered by state and local governments as they are forced by Washington to do more with less, an organization like the Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations would be invaluable.