The Census Project’s Summary: Fiscal Year 2021 Budget Release

The Trump Administration released initial details of its proposed Fiscal Year 2021 budget on February 10, 2020. Given that FY 2021 is the first year in the 2030 Census planning cycle, stakeholders were prepared for a dramatic decrease in proposed overall Census Bureau spending as compared to FY 2020. However, robust FY 2021 funding for the Census Bureau is necessary to support the agency’s overall operations as well as to ensure a successful conclusion of the 2020 Census. Below is a table from the Administration’s budget comparing the Census Bureau’s FY 2021 topline spending figures with FY 2019 and FY 2020 actual funding levels.

 FY 2019 actualFY 2020 actualFY 2021 Request
Census Bureau Total$3,836.6$7,574.8$1,599.8
Salaries and Expenses$288.8$294.0$299.3
Periodic Censuses$3,547.8$7,280.8$1,300.5

The FY 2021 Department of Commerce Congressional Justification includes additional details about the Census Bureau’s spending and operational priorities.. These include:

  • Releasing apportionment and redistricting data;
  • Conducting coverage and quality operations, including the post-enumeration survey;
  • Closing Census 2020 field operations and decommissioning related equipment and devices;
  • Launching the Frames initiative, which will integrate data on persons, places, and the economy for use in all Census Bureau surveys, censuses, and official products;
  • Conducting research on financially sustainable collection methods or alternative sources of comparable data on the economic well-being of Americans and program participation;
  • Establishing an enterprise-wide capability to expand the use of administrative records to improve sample survey operations, data quality, and data products and continuing support for the Administrative Records Clearinghouse;
  • Finalizing data releases from the 2017 Economic Census; and,
  • Developing and implementing tools and software as part of the agency’s avoidance disclosure activities.

It is worth noting that the FY 2021 proposed budget reflects a similar funding level as compared to FY 2011. Further, the FY 2021 drop off is roughly consistent with longstanding projections in the Obama Administration’s outyear budget tables.

The President’s Budget does not fully address the disposition of prior year carry-over funds, the Secretary’s contingency fund, or other offsets, so the total funding available to the Census Bureau in FY 2021 will be clarified during future congressional appropriations hearings and when the Census Bureau provides greater details. However, tables released with the budget also raise possible concerns about 2020 Census spending levels in 2019 and 2020.  The figures indicate that actual spending on the 2020 Census (in 2019) fell short of the life-cycle cost estimates issued by the Census Bureau in June 2019, as does the Administration’s projection of 2020 Census spending this year.

The Census Project leadership has already requested a formal budget briefing of the Census Bureau to walk stakeholders through the FY 2021 request and answer questions. Stay tuned for more details!