“It’s a data-mergency,” quipped user Waldoj in response to a GitHub post by White House e-gov team member Haley Van Dyck announcing that pull requests and other issues for the GitHub Project Open Data would not be processed until the federal shutdown ends.
GitHub participants responded with questions about whether open source projects should rely so much on government contribution and, conversely, whether the government’s contribution was even substantial. A few members implied Van Dyck’s announcement was a political ploy.
Whatever the motivation, the effect was undeniable: Digital data provided and supported by federal government workers went offline today.
The Bureau of Economic Analysis, which publishes economic growth data, shut down its website overnight. Statisticians were furloughed, which means no September monthly employment report this Friday.
“The dearth of data will make it harder for policymakers and investors to gauge the health of the U.S. economy and the supply of commodities into global markets,” Reuters reported. “The monthly jobs report, which provides the nation's unemployment rate and a gauge of hiring by employers, regularly sets the tone for financial markets worldwide.”
The Bureau of Labor will not even collect data until the furlough ends, according to the agency.
Other agencies, including the Department of Energy, have reserve funds that will allow them to continue operating for the time being.
Businesses that rely on government-issued data were turning to privately produced data sets, in some cases.
For instance, payroll processor ADP issues a report on job growth, which Deutsche Bank chief US economist Joe LaVorgna plans to use, according to Business Insider.
However, Reuters warned that ADP’s report has a “spotty record” when compared to the government’s report, which includes more comprehensive data.
Many government sites and data projects also went dark during the 2011 budget crisis. Funding ran out for Data.gov, IT Dashboard, USA Spending and other transparency sites.
The projects were eventually refunded, but it does give one pause: How can businesses and other organizations leverage open data sets when support for these projects is so fickle?