Directory of statisticians sparks interest overseas Japanese order data sourcebook ANNE ARUNDEL BUSINESS

December 17, 1992|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,Staff Writer

It didn't surprise Ron Morse when the first orders for his new book came from Japanese businessmen.

The Annapolis resident and Japan specialist figured the competitive Japanese would love to get hold of the names and phone numbers in "Data: Where It Is and How To Get It."

Now he and economist Ed Coleman, the book's co-author, are betting that a "new America" needs their directory of more than 2,500 data sources with expertise in business, energy and the environment.

"Clinton is trying to imitate the Japanese system of having business and government work together to get the economy going," said Mr. Morse, the former executive vice president of a Washington think tank, the Economic Strategy Institute. "This is the first book for the Clinton administration that does that."

He and Mr. Coleman, a U.S. Commerce Department economist for 40 years, spent a good part of the past year compiling names and phone numbers of statisticians and economists in the federal government's data factories.

"The directory puts you in touch with the people in government who work for us," Mr. Morse said. "Anybody you call has to answer your questions as part of their job."

When the federal government stopped publishing a directory of statistics during the Reagan and Bush years, it "cut off the public from being able to talk to people who produce the numbers," Mr. Coleman said.

Although the government has continued spending $1 billion a year to collect data, the public has had only limited access to it, he said.

For $24.95, the reference book offers a phone directory arranged by subject and state, as well as the Dataprimer, a guide to using and understanding data.

"People tend to be intimidated by data, and there's no reason for it," Mr. Morse said. "We're trying to explain it so non-economists -- lawyers or businessmen -- can understand where the information is compiled in the U.S. government. You don't have to be an economist to be data-literate. If you're looking out for your own economic interests, you have to know where to get it."

The phone directory, which is organized in three parts, links readers with more than 2,500 sources and experts. It includes a Business Data Directory, an Environmental Data Directory and an Energy Data Directory.

"Information is power, and the ability to get at the information is power," said Mr. Coleman. He emphasized that the book lists the people who compile the statistics, not the statistics themselves.

Business people often don't know where to go for information, or even that information they need is readily available, he said. That's true as well for regional and state officials, who frequently spend millions of dollars in consultants' fees.

Mr. Coleman recalled the many times state officials hired consultants, who in turn would call him at the Commerce Department, then turn the data over to the state for a fee.

The authors, who wrote the book on personal computers and published it themselves, expect it will be valuable to officials in state and regional government, professionals and anyone whose business relates to environmental protection, energy, agriculture or international trade.

They predict the guide will be especially useful to owners of small businesses.

"They can be just as well-informed as the president of Xerox or president of General Motors," Mr. Morse said.

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