Recent news from Congress…
House Guts Census Funding For FY2015
Before passing legislation to fund the Census Bureau and dozens of other federal agencies in Fiscal Year 2015, the House of Representatives indiscriminately sliced and diced the Census budget. It included only $973 million for the Census Bureau, an amount likely insufficient to conduct the ACS (American Community Survey) in FY2015 and requisite testing to prepare for the 2020 Census. The Obama Administration had requested $1.211 billion for the Census Bureau’s activities in FY2015, an increase of 28% from the final FY2014 funding level ($945 million) to ramp up for the 2020 national headcount.
We are deeply disappointed by the cuts to the Census Bureau’s funding, and the threat they pose to the ACS and 2020 Census. The 2020 Census must count 334 million people in more than 130 million households and group facilities, by April 1, 2020. The 2010 count got so expensive that the Bureau will consider diving into a whole host of more advanced data collection and processing options, such as:
- Offering multiple response options, including Internet and mobile, but cyber-security and volume concerns must be tackled, and Americans responding electronically also must be counted at the correct address.
- Automating data collection in the field with call centers and handheld devices (and an effective and safe bring-your-own-device arrangement).
- Using administrative records (data other government agencies already have) to count households that don’t automatically respond.
- Targeting pre-decennial address canvassing to the specific areas experiencing heavy housing changes, using administrative data to update and confirm addresses.
- Using administrative data to improve the management of field staff in real time, determining the best sequence of phone calls, planning travel routes, and prioritizing caseloads.
These reforms could save taxpayers at least $5 billion from the final decennial headcount’s price tag, while producing a more efficient and accurate census. A failure to test them properly in FY15 could easily leave the Census Bureau in the unpleasant and expensive position of another archaic-but-relatively-safe Census conducted with paper and pencil. (Read more.)
Congress Tries To Neuter The American Community Survey
On May 29, the House passed an amendment to an appropriations bill funding the Census Bureau to make response to the ACS voluntary instead of mandatory.
Congressman Ted Poe’s amendment passed by voice vote after negligible debate.
The ACS and the decennial head count are the only two mandatory surveys in the country. This mandatory response helps drive the high response rates for the ACS: 95% to 98%. By comparison, most surveys in the U.S. are lucky to hit a 10% response rate. That high response rate helps make the ACS the most accurate measure in the country down to the neighborhood and census tract level for a whole host of demographics and socioeconomic indicators. It is also why the survey, opinion and marketing research profession relies heavily on ACS data to calibrate that U.S. research studies are statistically representative of the population being sampled.
MRA will have to be vigilant as the Senate version heads to floor debate, likely later this summer, and help to fend off any comparable amendments. (Read more.)
Immigration Questions Could Hinder Accurate Count
Senator David Vitter (R-LA)’s proposed amendment 3279 on the Fiscal Year 2015 Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) Appropriations bill (H.R. 4660) would forbid funding for the Census Bureau to conduct the 2020 decennial headcount “unless the questionnaires used for such census include questions to ascertain United States citizenship and immigration status.”
Decennial Census questions about immigration status might unnecessarily raise concerns among all respondents (whether immigrant or native) about the privacy and safety of the personal information they are providing to the Census Bureau. At a time when some Members of Congress are raising concerns about the intrusiveness of questions in the ACS, why would Congress seek to potentially deter respondents from participating and jeopardize the accuracy of the 2020 Census? Asking questions about citizenship and immigration could adversely impact the accuracy of the 2020 Census and America’s ability to know our true population numbers, by deterring many immigrants (legal or illegal) from responding. (Read more.)
Call to Action
Howard Fienberg (@hfienberg) is director of government affairs for the Marketing Research Association (MRA). He is MRA’s lobbyist in the U.S. on behalf of the survey, opinion and marketing research profession.