House Panel holds hearing on making American Community Survey voluntary

By Steve Pierson posted 03-07-2012 13:35


The House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Health Care, District of Columbia, Census and the National Archives held a hearing on March 6, titled "The Pros and Cons of Making the Census Bureau's American Community Survey Voluntary." While the committee invited outside witnesses in favor of a mandatory ACS, the subcommittee chair and full committee chair, Trey Gowdy (R-SC) and Darrell Issa (R-CA), were aggressive in their questioning.

Congressman Ted Poe (R-TX), sponsor of H.R. 931, a bill making ACS voluntary and the impetus for the hearing, was the only witness to speak in favor of a voluntary ACS. (Poe testimony starts at 2:10 of hearing video. There was no questioning of Congressman Poe.) The other witnesses were (click on their names for their testimony)
  • The Honorable Robert Groves, Ph.D., Director, U.S. Census Bureau 
  • Andrew Biggs, Ph.D., Resident Scholar, American Enterprise Institute 
  • Lawrence Yun, Ph.D., Chief Economist, National Association of Realtors 
  • Mr. Patrick Jankowski, Vice President, Research, Greater Houston Partnership
Chairmen Gowdy and Issa both granted the importance of the ACS data. Noting that the right to vote - "the ultimate survey" - is not mandatory, Gowdy focused his questions on why some questions on the ACS were mandatory with possible punishment of going to jail. (See 44:05-49:20 and 54:43+ in the video). 

Issa, in one line of questioning, asked why the private sector users of the data shouldn't be paying for the ACS data if it is so valuable. (See 1:05:50+) Issa then asked what he called his most important question, "Could money solve this problem statistically?" (referring to the fact that response rates to ACS survey would drop if ACS were made voluntary, thereby affecting data quality.)

Issa concluded his questioning (starting 1:15:13-1:17:45) by requesting draft ideas from Director Groves for how an ACS could eventually be phased to a voluntary survey while preserving the data quality.

At 1:11:57, Director Groves refers to the fact that Canada made their census long-form voluntary in 2010,  implemented it in 2011 as the National Household Survey, and that Statistics Canada is still grappling with the implications for data quality.

The other Congressmen who attended the hearing were Subcommittee Ranking Member Danny Davis (D-IL), former Subcommittee Ranking Member (111th Congress) Patrick McHenry (R-MA), and 111th Congress Subcommittee Chair Lacy Clay (D-MO).

My summary here only begins to summarize the hearing. Please let me know your thoughts about the hearing in the Comment space below.

Besides the testimony linked above, much more information is available on the topic, including the following: