By Arloc Sherman, Senior Fellow, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities
The American Enterprise Institute’s Andrew Biggs and I are together urging Congress to adequately fund the Census Bureau as it prepares for the 2020 census. Although our organizations frequently disagree on policy matters, Andrew and I strongly agree that policymakers and businesses can’t make good decisions without good data, as we explained in a joint letter to key senators and House members.
The funding bills approved in the House and by the Senate Appropriations Committee don’t provide enough funds for the Bureau to gear up for the mammoth census operation. As I’ve written before, both bills provide a fraction of the spending increase that Congress has traditionally made available to the Bureau at this stage of census preparations in past decades.
In shortchanging the Bureau, Congress is following the lead of the Trump Administration, which sharply reduced its 2018 Census budget request relative to what Obama Administration budget documents projected the Bureau would need (see page 62 of this document.)
The stakes are high.
- Census data — and the myriad surveys that build directly upon those data such as the American Community Survey (ACS) — help businesses and communities decide where to build stores, factories, roads, bridges, homes, and schools, and help policymakers, researchers, and voters assess national and local needs.
- Census and ACS data help direct where the federal government sends billions of dollars in grants and assistance each year.
- Shortchanging census preparations now could add to the eventual cost of the census. That’s because the Bureau is planning to save taxpayer dollars using innovative approaches such as online data collection, and databases that can save census takers from knocking on doors of vacant homes. Cutting funds for these innovations could add billions of dollars to taxpayer costs in 2020, the Bureau has estimated.
Our letter reflects our shared concern that the Bureau lacks the funding to conduct an accurate census. As we wrote:
No policy or philosophical outlook is well-served by a lack of accurate data. The alternative to accurate, detailed data on American households is policy-by-anecdote, in which lawmakers respond to perceived needs without data needed to determine how large or widespread a problem might be, where its impacts are most concentrated, and how it may be best addressed. Such a process would spend federal funds neither effectively nor wisely.
For these reasons, we urge you to provide adequate funding for the Census Bureau and the 2020 census.
This article originally appeared on the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities website and is reprinted with permission.