Thursday, May 10, 2012

HOUSE VOTES to ELIMINATE the Census Bureau's American Community Survey!

From Terri Ann Lowenthal

The U.S. House of Representatives voted this evening (232 - 190) to eliminate all funding for the Census Bureau's American Community Survey, which as you know replaced the traditional census long form starting with the 2010 Census. The vote essentially was along party lines, with all but 11 Republicans voting in favor and all but four (4) Democrats voting against. The amendment was sponsored by Rep. Daniel Webster (R-FL).

Right before the House considered the Webster amendment, it approved, by voice vote, an amendment sponsored by Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX) to make response to the ACS voluntary, by prohibiting both the Census Bureau and the Justice Department from using funds to enforce penalties in the Census Act that make survey response mandatory. (The amendment had to be written as a limit on expenditure of funds in order for it to be ruled "in order" on an appropriations bill, FYI.) I suspect the subcommittee chairman, Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), did not call for a recorded vote on the Poe amendment because he figured the provision would be stripped in conference.

Now, I cannot imagine that President Obama would sign a Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations bill that eliminates the ACS. But this is a truly cautionary tale. I do not think any of us were prepared for the House to approve such a drastic measure. The outcome demonstrates, in my opinion, that all census/ACS data users must be much more pro-active in conveying their support for this and other surveys to all Members of the House and Senate. What if the White House and Senate majority change hands next year? Conceivably, we could lose an awful lot of data in the future, and this won't just be a theoretical exercise in Census Bureau cheerleading any more.

I also recall, when the Census Bureau first began the transition from the long form to the ACS (with research, then testing, then implementation in 2005), with a shove from Congress (ironically!), that some business community stakeholders were worried that decoupling the long form from the census would put the data collection at risk. That worry is now becoming a reality. Rep. Lankford (R-OK), in speaking in support of the Webster amendment during the debate, said the ACS was NOT the long form and did not collect the same type of data. Of course, he is just plain wrong.

The Senate is expected to take up the FY2013 Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations bill next week.

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