House Cuts Census Bureau Funding and Votes to Make American Community Survey Voluntary

By Steve Pierson posted 06-03-2015 10:37


For the second year in a row,the House has substantially cut the Census Bureau budget and voted to make the American Community Survey (ACS) voluntary (by prohibiting funding of the mandatory enforcement) in its floor consideration of the funding bill for the Census—the Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) Appropriations bill. In 2012 in consideration of the FY13 CJS bill, the House went further and zeroed the ACS budget entirely

The following three amendments reduced the House level for the FY16 Census Bureau budget from $1.113 billion to $992 million (well below the requested $1.500 billion):

  1. An amendment, offered by Mr. Reichert, to reduce funding for periodic censuses and programs by $100 million and increase funding for the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant program by a similar amount.
  2. An amendment, offered by Mr. Nugent, to reduce funding for the Bureau of the Census Current Surveys and Programs by $ 4 million and increase the Office of Justice Programs State and Local Law Enforcement Assistance by $4 million.
  3. An amendment, offered by Mr. Poe (TX), to reduce funding for the Periodic Censuses and Programs by $17.3 million and increase funding for victims services programs for victims of trafficking by a similar amount.

A fourth amendment, "offered by Mr. Poliquin, to increase funding for the Department of Commerce International Trade Administration Account by $44 million and reduce funding for the Bureau of the Census Current Surveys and Programs by $8 million and the Periodic Censuses and Programs by $36 million," was withdrawn after the leaders of the FY16 CJS bill pledged to work with Congressman Poliquin to address his issue. 

For the third straight floor consideration of the CJS billthe House didn't debate the FY14 CJS bill in 2013—Congressman Ted Poe successfully amended the CJS bill to make the ACS voluntary. Each time (20122014, and now 1015) the amendment was approved by voice vote. 

If the Senate were to agree House level for the Census Bureau, planning and preparation for the 2020 Census would come to a standstill and other programs, such as the ACS, would be in jeopardy, as explained in this blog post from Terri Ann Lowenthal. Even before the floor actions further reducing the Census Bureau budget below the request and making the ACS voluntary, OMB had issued a veto threat on House FY16 CJS bill, in part, because of the Census Bureau funding level. 

The Senate is expected to begin its FY16 deliberations of the CJS bill next week, I urge readers to contact their Senators to fully fund the Census Bureau at the FY16 level of $1.5 billion and to not agree with the Poe ACS provision. For talking points on the importance of the ACS being mandatory, see this one-pager. In my view, the most compelling argument for full funding of the FY16 requested level of $1.5 billion is its potential to save $5 billion on the overall cost of the 2020 Census. See recent letters from the Census Project for elaboration and other points.

For more on the dynamics of the ACS in this and past Congresses, see these links:

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."

[6/7/15 update: See Jeff Mervis' 6/4/15 take on the story: U.S. House takes its whacks at planning for 2020 census and at monthly survey.

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