Bureau of Transportation Statistics: House Science, Space, & Technology Committee
On June 4, 2021, COPAFS signed onto a letter in support of increased authorization numbers for the Bureau of Transportation Statistics provided in the Surface Transportation Research and Development Act of 2021.
The Honorable Eddie Bernice Johnson
Chair, Committee on Science, Space and Technology
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515 The Honorable Frank Lucas
Ranking Member, Committee on Science, Space and Technology
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515
Dear Chair Johnson and Ranking Member Lucas,
We write in support of the Bureau of Transportation Statistics and the increased authorization levels provided in the Surface Transportation Research and Development Act of 2021. Increased authorization levels will help ensure the bureau can continue to produce statistical data that contributes to evidence-based policymaking in transportation and infrastructure. We also applaud the inclusion of language reestablishing the Advisory Council on Transportation Statistics (ACTS).
BTS is the principal federal statistical agency that tells us how, how sustainably, and how safely people and commodities move within the United States and across our borders. BTS also tells us how transportation contributes to and enables the nation’s economy. Its key products include statistics on freight, economic trends, spatial accessibility and availability of transportation services, airline performance, and precursor accident and safety data.
Policymakers and the American people increasingly seek more data to inform their decisions. They want the data more frequently, at smaller geographic scale, and more quickly. They are also confronted with an ever-increasing amount of data from an expanding number of public and private sources. The BTS is the trusted entity naturally positioned to put transportation data in context and turn it into actionable information for policymakers and the public so they better understand how people and products move in their communities.
BTS’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic provides a glimpse of the ways more investment in the BTS would benefit the economy and local, state, and federal policymakers. In spring 2020, BTS started providing daily and weekly statistics that served as an early indicator of how the pandemic was affecting transportation demand and services and how the country is recovering. Besides the pandemic and infrastructure investments, BTS is also key to informing this administration’s equity and climate priorities.
Since 2003, BTS has lost 37 percent of its purchasing power, which taxes its ability to meet critical missions, maintain ongoing programs and legislative mandates, and meet emerging needs and mandates. One impact has been the discontinuation of fundamental and benchmark data programs, forcing decisions to be made based on decades-old data. The agency faces a serious shortage of full-time equivalent staff allotment to maintain internal capacity and keep pace with advancements in statistical science.
Because of both the budgeting and staffing constraints, BTS is hamstrung to meet the opportunities, needs, and demands outlined above and faces particular challenges when additional needs or alternative opportunities are presented, including developing new data programs to capture emerging transportation trends such as e-commerce, drone delivery, green transportation, and autonomous transportation; understanding the new normal on passenger and freight movement post-COVID-19 to better inform investment and operational decisions; maintaining fundamental and benchmark data programs to avoid stale data; expanding on data sharing and linkages that could make existing data more complete and useful; and supporting new initiatives such as equity and climate goals.
The authorization levels provided in the Surface Transportation Research and Development Act—$35 million in fiscal year 2022 with annual 2.5 percent growth to account for inflation through 2026—will help BTS meet its many demands, as well as opportunities to ensure the country’s infrastructure policies and investments are guided and supported by evidence.
Additionally, we support the bill’s reinstatement of ACTS, which was created with the establishment of BTS in the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 to advise the BTS director and terminated by the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018. Reestablishing ACTS will enable BTS to tap external expertise and meet the needs of data users more effectively. Finally, noting BTS’ charge to provide objective statistics, we request affirmation of the BTS authorities in place over the development of objective and reliable data, budget allocation, hiring, publications, and information technology.
To summarize, we urge these BTS provisions of the Surface Transportation Research and Development Act be enacted as part of the broader transportation reauthorization bill. For further information, we enclose a document of a subset of the organizations below listing BTS priorities for this Congress and administration.
American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials
American Bus Association
American Highway Users Alliance
American Planning Association
American Road & Transportation Builders Association
American Society of Civil Engineers
American Statistical Association
American Trucking Associations
Association of Academic Survey Research Organizations
Association for Public Data User
Center for Data Innovation
Consortium of Social Science Associations
Council of Professional Associations on Federal Statistics
Information Technology and Innovation Foundation
Institute for Transportation and Development Policy
Institute of Transportation Engineers
Intelligent Transportation Society of America
National Association for Business Economics
Rail Passengers Association
State International Development Organizations
U.S. Chamber of Commerce