America Would Know Less Under House Census Policy

Since 1790, Americans have used the Census as a tool to understand who we are and where we stand as a nation. However, our ability to gather this crucial data would be crippled under a bill recently passed by the House.

On May 10, the House passed H.R. 5326, the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act for fiscal year (FY) 2013. The bill would undermine the Census Bureau's authority and resources to inform Americans' decision making on a number of important policy choices.

Most dramatically, the bill would eliminate the American Community Survey (ACS), a vital tool for businesses and governments. The ACS collects information on many of the demographic categories formerly covered in the long-form census, such as housing, education, employment, and transportation. Consequently, the ACS is a richly detailed and reliable source of valuable information about our nation and keeps the country up-to-date in the years between decennial censuses.

The ACS helps to determine the distribution of more than $400 billion in state and federal funds annually, making public programs like education and health care more effective and equitable. In addition, the ACS informs government decision making in myriad other ways. For instance, the Federal Highway Administration recommends using ACS data as an effective practice for environmental justice in transportation planning.

Businesses and nonprofits also rely on the ACS. Retailers like Target use ACS data to select products most suited to community needs. At OMB Watch, we know firsthand how useful ACS data can be, having incorporated it in our Equity in Government Accountability and Performance project.

In addition, the bill would slash the Census Bureau’s funding for FY 2013 by $89 million, or nearly one-tenth of its budget. Census officials warn that such a cut would require cancelling the 2012 Economic Census, which provides information on business activities, employment, inventories, and revenues. The cuts would also deal a significant blow to plans to modernize the population census required once a decade by the Constitution – ironically harming efforts to make the survey collection more efficient.

OMB Watch signed on to a letter opposing the Census provisions in the spending bill. Many other groups also oppose the cuts, including everyone from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to the Center for American Progress, demonstrating the broad support for the important information the Census Bureau provides. We hope the Senate will hear this message when it considers the bill.

In its frenzy to limit government and cut spending, the House has voted to eliminate an important and valuable national resource. Undercutting the Census Bureau would be a mistake. The less we know about our country, the harder it will be to find sustainable solutions to the challenges that face our nation. Turning off these streams of data would further limit our ability to address national priorities.

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