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Meet BEA Director Steve Landefeld

1 August 2011 3,367 views No Comment
Amstat News invited Bureau of Economic Analysis Director J. Steven Landefeld to respond to the following questions so readers could learn more about him and the agency he directs. Look for future statistical agency head interviews in forthcoming issues.

Steve LandefeldJ. Steven Landefeld has served in a number of capacities at the Bureau of Economic Analysis, including deputy director and associate director for international economics. He also has received national and international awards for his work, including the president’s Distinguished Executive Award. He holds a PhD in economics from the University of Maryland.

      What have you enjoyed most about being head of BEA?

        As someone who was previously a big user of economic statistics for a number of years, I really enjoy being part of an agency that produces the data that play such an important role in helping inform our country’s economic policy. It’s gratifying to be part of an organization that provides essential insight into the functioning of the country’s economy and that is relied on by so many decisionmakers in both the public and private sectors. We get to come to work every day knowing that what we do matters and that government and corporate officials use BEA statistics to help them determine the best course of action for sound fiscal and monetary policies.

        It’s also great to get to work every day alongside the kind of talented, dedicated, and committed people we have here at BEA. Just to brag about this extraordinary group of people for a moment, we recently received the results of the latest Organizational Assessment Survey (OAS), conducted by the Office of Personnel Management. BEA set the benchmark high scores in 10 of the 12 dimensions used to measure federal agencies. In fact, we even exceeded 11 of the 15 benchmark scores used to evaluate private industries. I couldn’t be more proud of the people at BEA.

        What do you see as the biggest challenge(s) for BEA?

          Keeping pace with a constantly evolving economy. As the complexity of the world grows, the challenges to produce statistics that help explain it also grow. As commerce changes and becomes more sophisticated, it’s absolutely vital that we improve our current measurement systems and introduce new ones to ensure the data we produce remain relevant to the cause of providing a clear picture of what is happening economically, thus helping American businesses grow and remain competitive and the nation to prosper.

          This past year marked the 75th anniversary of the National Accounts. Throughout that time, this agency and its predecessors found ways to meet the changing statistical needs of the nation. The first set of national income statistics was developed at the Department of Commerce by the Nobel Prize winner Simon Kuznets in response to the big information gap revealed by the Great Depression. Over the many years I’ve been associated with BEA, we’ve implemented so many innovations it’s hard to keep track. Some of the big ones that come to mind are changing the treatment of software as an investment, incorporating measures of high-tech products and banking output, and introducing major methodological changes such as chain indexes. Yet, we’ll always have to propose new measures to better understand business cycles, the sources of income growth, and the sustainability of trends.

          Describe your top two or three priorities for BEA.

            One of the things I’m very interested in doing is trying to expand our measurements to be able to better describe how the economy relates to the experiences of everyday people. For example, we are currently working on a health care account that will more accurately measure spending on health care. We also are proposing a suite of new measures. These will include the distribution of income, spending, debt, saving, and wealth. They also will include measures of discretionary income and inflation-adjusted measures of state personal income that reflect differences in the cost of living across states. We believe this will help the public better relate economic data to their personal experiences. It also will shed more light on problems like the housing and financial crises. We think these measures could have identified how the use of aggregate data disguised rapidly increasing risks in specific sectors and have been useful in designing policies to maintain and accelerate growth.

            Fast Facts
            Part of Department of Commerce’s Economics and Statistics Administration (along with the U.S. Census Bureau)
            Website: www.bea.gov
            FY11 budget: $93 million
            Staff size: 550

            We also are developing expanded statistics on the energy sector that will provide more comprehensive, accurate, and better-integrated data on the supply, consumption, and prices of energy-related products in the United States. We’re working with the Energy Information Administration to introduce critical new statistics on the energy sector, which will enable us to assess its impact on U.S. economic growth and productivity. In addition, we continue our efforts to better gauge the effect of innovation on the economy through our research and development satellite account.

            What do you see as the role for the broader statistical community in supporting BEA?

              We rely heavily on all the other statistical agencies. The source for almost all of our data originates somewhere else. As far as I’m concerned, the health of all the other statistical agencies is critical, because we can’t do our job without them. In this era of shrinking resources, I think all of us must support each other and think in terms of doing what’s necessary to identify priorities and strengthen the entire statistical system. The synchronization proposal for economic data on the Hill right now is critical for innovations in making statistics more accurate and consistent and allowing us to continue to make improvements in a resource-constrained environment. I know the ASA is at the forefront of championing the data synchronization cause, and I certainly encourage the entire statistical community to support it.

              What do you see as the biggest accomplishment of BEA during your tenure?

                I’m really proud of the fact that the work to improve and update BEA’s accounts has been a cooperative partnership with our user groups. The input and feedback we get from the academic and business communities (e.g., ASA, National Association for Business Economics, American Economic Association, and Council of Professional Associations on Federal Statistics) has been invaluable in guiding us to produce higher-quality, more useful statistics. In my day-to-day interaction with the user community, it’s obvious that individuals support our mission of providing the most timely and accurate statistics possible and are more than willing to show that support by working with us in mapping out new initiatives and talking to policymakers about the importance to the nation of reliable statistics. It’s vitally important that BEA work hand-in-hand with our customers.

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