Under this innocuous title, bills were introduced without fanfare in the U.S. Senate (S. 103, on Jan. 11, 2017) and House of Representatives (H.R. 482, on Jan. 12, 2017) and quickly referred for committee consideration. The stated purpose in each bill is “[t]o nullify certain regulations and notices of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and for other purposes.” The operative text is set forth in section 3 of each bill:
Notwithstanding any other provision of law, no Federal funds may be used to design, build, maintain, utilize, or provide access to a Federal database of geospatial information on community racial disparities or disparities in access to affordable housing.
Geospatial information is data referenced by geographic coordinates that is used to create maps and charts illustrating the raw data. The Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Census Bureau, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and other agencies routinely use statistical maps, charts, and graphs to illustrate government data on many important issues, such as housing, poverty, employment, and economic trends, as well as to help monitor compliance with federal law. Government statistical data and government graphical materials are widely relied on as accurate. The proposed legislation appears to be a flagrant attempt by Congress to reduce or eliminate transparency at HUD and federal government statistical agencies. The fact that the bills specifically target data dealing with racial and housing issues should be cause for alarm.