If You Can't Prove There's A Problem, You Can't Fix It - The Defense of Data Collection

Editor's note: Evi Roberts is a listener and Master of Public Administration candidate at Ohio University's Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs. In the interest of full disclosure, I have marketed the MPA program for the Voinovich School in a past life, but I no longer do and was unaware of this relationship until Evi emailed me this post. 

The Pantsuit Politics call for writers is rather timely as I am looking to spread the word about a piece of harmful legislation that has been introduced into Congress. Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) has proposed a bill on behalf of the Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs committee - Section 103 of the proposed Local Zoning Protection Act - which would cease access to and collection of federal data on disparity indicators related to race and access to affordable housing. 

Put simply: the data used by governmental agencies, academic institutions, non-profit organizations and private sector companies regarding affordable housing and racial disparities would no longer be collected, and access to existing data would be denied.

This data is necessary to assess the potential and evaluate the actual impact of policies, regulations, and legislation that affects racial minorities and low-income individuals.

It's necessary to support grant applications by organizations seeking funding to address racial and economic disparities.

It's necessary to understand the health and wealth of a community, as well as the social inequity its denizens may be experiencing.

It's necessary to track how different demographics fare under the Trump presidency, and to confirm or disconfirm the narratives Trump tells us regarding inequitable treatment on the basis of income and race.

I'm concerned because if this legislation is passed, Ben Carson, the unqualified and inexperienced new head of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, will be responsible for creating and writing the regulations to implement this legislation.

Researchers and community organizers - the people on the ground working to improve lives in their communities - know that if there isn't data, you can't prove there's a problem and you certainly can't fix it.

I'm concerned the Local Zoning Protection Act could usher in a wave of additional bills that dismantle other valuable data collection practices which now provide barriers to protect communities from unequal policies and have the potential to expose Donald Trump. Because there is no easier way to "prove" one's competency than to erase all other indicators to the contrary.

I urge listeners to call their congresspersons with the following message:

"I am your constituent from [location] and I want to strongly encourage [rep name] to oppose the "Local Zoning Protection Act, S. 103 which seeks to suppress data regarding racial disparities and segregation. This is an attempt to hide how the most vulnerable people in our country are not being counted. Please do not support this bill."

We have word-of mouth stories and media documentation of police brutality, and sexual assault, and starvation, and a hundred other narrative-based indicators of inequity, but unless we have data to back up our claims, it is easy to dismiss those concerns. For people like you, and me, and many Pantsuit Politics listeners, data is the foundation of our worldview, the neutral arbiter to which I turn when I need answers to controversial questions. If we lose access to this information, then we will never truly know the consequences of Donald Trump's administration, and citizens on both sides of the aisle should be concerned about that. 

Please see https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/senate-bill/103/text for the complete bill. Scroll down to section 3 for the details regarding data collection practices.