Where context matters, sequestration hype edition

We’re several days into this month’s world-ending financialpocalypse. And, so far, we’re all still here. (Though some of us are still in lines at Customs.)

I read a fine piece on sequestration by Dr. James Joyner that I wanted to share. He’s a former political science professor who is now the managing editor of The Atlantic Council, which is to say he has some nice bona fides in this area. Dr. Joyner writes:

But the Obama administration is overplaying its hand by cutting public-facing services in the face of minuscule ”cuts” (really, slight slowdowns in the rate of planned growth) to other programs.

He actually used the air travel example in the piece, which he published on Saturday, Feb. 23. He breaks down the DOT budget, itemizes the FAA’s cut of that budget and concludes:

You’re telling me that the only way to absorb $600 million in cuts is to furlough air traffic controllers and shut down 100 air traffic control towers? That strikes me as pretty obvious grandstanding. The ops budget alone, which is what pays for the air traffic control system, is $9.718 billion. If the entire $600 million cut were taken out of the ops budget—which it wouldn’t be—you’d still be left with $9.118 billion, or 93.826 percent of the non-sequester budget. If the $600 million cut was taken across the board—as it should be—only $384.3 million of it would come out of operations. That would still leave 96.05 percent of the non-sequester budget for air traffic control.

So, brace yourselves for a 3.95 percent decrease in efficiency.

How we use the data, the numbers, the dollars in our examples, matters.

This applies to how politicians govern, accounts reflect budgets and reporters work on facts.

To that end, here’s a piece from Linda Austin designed to make every journalist with arithmophobia feel better: Danger! Numbers in the newsroom — tips from Sarah Cohen on taming digits in stories. Find an anchor, she says. Click over to see what that means.


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