New Chairman of House Funding Panel for Commerce, Justice, and Science Expresses Concerns on ACS and Census

By Steve Pierson posted 03-04-2015 09:21

At the March 3 hearing for the fiscal year 2016 (FY16) budget for the Department of Commerce, Congressman John Culberson (R-TX), chair of the Commerce, Justice, and Science (CJS) appropriations subcommittee, devoted his first 8 minutes of questions for Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker to the American Community Survey (ACS) and the costs of the 2020 decennial census. 

Specifically, Chair Culberson noted concerns from his constituents about the intrusiveness of the ACS and his concern about the survey being mandatory. For the 2020 decennial, he noted the estimated cost of the 2020 decennial census being $13 billion, which is more funding than what is available: "we just simply won't have the money this year; it's going to be a very difficult budget environment." He also said he's "a big believer in privacy" and "our most important right as Americans is to be left alone." He said he prefers that Census just stick to the most basic questions of the decennial census (versus those in the ACS.) He's also concerned for possible duplication of data gathered from the ACS with data collected by other parts of the federal government. He also expressed concern for the Census having access to IRS data because of recent IRS problems of targeting people. Culberson also asked what the Census Bureau was doing to ensure its IT systems could handle large volumes of online respondents for the decennial Census.

In replying to Chairman Culberson, Secretary Pritzer describes the many efforts by the U.S. Census Bureau to use administrative records to keep costs down. She went on to describe the efforts to transform how the decennial census is done and that the coming fiscal year would be a key year for  She also noted how much they respect the privacy of ACS respondents and the time they take to respond to the survey. She also discussed the top-to-bottom review of the American Community Survey and emphasized how seriously the U.S. Census Bureau takes privacy. She went on to discuss the value of ACS data to all segments of government, businesses, NGO's, and others. If the ACS were eliminated, she said we would not have data for some 60 million people in the United States. She also emphasized the important of making investments now. 

To see the exchange between Chairman Culberson and Secretary Pritzer, go to 3:05 of the hearing video.

Culberson took over the CJS in January, succeeded now retired Congressman Frank Wolf (R-VA). Culberson has expressed his concerns for the ACS in prior-year CJS hearings. For more on the dynamics of the ACS in the new Congress, see this February Amstat News article. For actions by the House of Representatives on the ACS in previous Congress, see these blog entries:

For coverage of Canada's experience with replacing its mandatory long-form census with a voluntary survey, see this 5/6/13 blog entry: Results on Data Quality for Newly Voluntary Canadian Long-Form Census Coming In.

For George Will's perspective on the American Community Survey, see this 2013 column, "America, Know Thyself: The American Community Survey benefits us all."


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