The Census Project’s Fiscal Year 2021 Appropriations Request

The Census Project recommends that the Census Bureau receive no less than $1.681 billion in Fiscal Year (FY) 2021.

Although Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 wraps up the 2020 Census, it is also the first year in the 2030 Census planning cycle, so a dramatic decrease in Census Bureau spending as compared to FY 2020 is normal and expected. However, The Census Project reminds stakeholders that robust FY 2021 spending remains necessary to support the Census Bureau’s overall operations, especially the ongoing American Community Survey (ACS), as well as to ensure a successful conclusion of the 2020 Census.

 FY 2020 ActualFY 2021 Administration RequestFY 2021 Census Project RequestCP Differential from White House
Periodic Censuses and Programs[1]$7,284,319,000$1,392,709,000$1,392,709,000 
Current Surveys and Programs[2]$274,000,000$279,268,000$288,403,000+ $9,135,000
Total Census Bureau Budget$7,574,800,000$1,671,977,000$1,681,112,000+ $9,135,000

The White House’s overall budget request for the Census Bureau aligns with expectations based on prior decennial cycles and mostly reflects the revised lifecycle cost estimate for 2020 Census spending in FY 2021.[3] This upcoming fiscal year will prove essential for Census Bureau activities, such as:

  • Constitutional data output: Processing 2020 Census data and sending it to the President (for apportionment) by December 31, 2020 and to the states for redistricting by April 1, 2021 (and to the public beginning in December 2021);
  • 2020 Census Evaluation: Conducting coverage and quality operations, including the post-enumeration survey;
  • Closing 2020 Census-specific ops: Closing Census 2020 field operations and decommissioning related equipment and devices;
  • Data integration: 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;
  • SIPP improvements: Conducting research on financially sustainable collection methods or alternative sources of comparable data on the economic well-being of Americans and program participation;
  • Cross-government data collection system: 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;
  • The Economic Census and the Census of Governments: Finalizing data releases from the 2017 Economic Census, and beginning work on the 2022 Economic Census and Census of Governments; and
  • Data confidentiality: Developing and implementing tools and software as part of the agency’s avoidance disclosure activities.

The Census Project has identified several issues for Congress to consider during the FY 2021 appropriations process. These include:

  • Need to restore $9 million+ in the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP): Census Project stakeholders recommend restoring $9,135,000 in funding that the White House budget proposed to cut from a survey that even the White House considers “crucial to the measurement of the effectiveness of existing Federal, state, and local programs” and “the major source of information on the economic wellbeing of Americans over time.”[4] According to the White House budget request: “The data are used to estimate future costs and coverage for government programs, such as food stamps, and to provide improved statistics on the distribution of income in the country. In FY 2021, this survey will provide a broader context for analysis by adding questions on a variety of topics not covered in the core section, such as childcare, wealth, program eligibility, child support, utilization and cost of health care, disability, school enrollment, taxes, and annual income.
  • Lack of clarity on 2020 Census spending levels in FY 2020: Census Project stakeholders are concerned by the lack of transparency and specificity in the White House’s budget request in how Census Bureau funds are being spent to complete the 2020 Census. The Census Bureau’s Congressional Budget Justification for FY 2021 includes important indicators of actual FY 2019 and FY 2020 spending that suggest the Census Bureau may be shortchanging the decennial headcount in order to maintain public commitments to control overall census spending and to carry over more than $1 billion into FY 2021. The figures indicate that actual spending on the 2020 Census fell short of the revised life-cycle cost estimates from the Census Bureau for FY2019 and FY 2020. At the same time, recent testimony in the “NAACP v. Bureau of the Census” litigation from the Census Bureau’s Decennial Budget Office Chief, Benjamin K. Taylor, suggested that the revised lifecycle cost estimates may have been inflated and the Congressional Budget Justification suggests that various programs within the 2020 Census are being completed ahead of schedule and below budget. Absent greater clarity and transparency from the Census Bureau on current spending, Census Project stakeholders cannot fully evaluate progress on the 2020 Census in FY 2020 (and suppositions about 2020 Census spending in FY 2021 might also be subject to change). The Census Project urges Congress to ask the Census Bureau for clarification during the FY 2021 appropriations hearings.
  • Impact of data system transitions: The White House proposed to decrease funding and staff for data collection, processing, analysis, and storage, as part of the transition from the Census Enterprise Data Collection and Processing (CEDCaP) system to the Data Ingest and Collection for the Enterprise (DICE) program and the launch of the Enterprise Data Lake management system. Stakeholders need more information in order to evaluate the impact of this proposed cut of $75.4 million (and 58 full-time employees) in the transition, and the added $22.3 million for the Enterprise Data Lake (and 30 full-time employees), whether these changes may lead to shortcuts in high quality data collection methods down the road and whether the funding shifts will still meet the needs of core Census Bureau data activities.

[1] Department of Commerce FY 2021 Budget. Page 193. https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/com_fy21.pdf

[2] Department of Commerce FY 2021 Budget. Page 192. https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/com_fy21.pdf

[3] $1.025 billion, according to the table on page 20 of the 2020 Census Life-cycle Cost Estimates Executive Summary, Version 2.0. https://www2.census.gov/programs-surveys/decennial/2020/program-management/planning-docs/life-cycle-cost-estimate_v2.pdf

[4] Page CEN-36. Census Bureau FY 2021 Congressional Budget Justification. https://www.commerce.gov/sites/default/files/2020-02/fy2021_census_congressional_budget_justification.pdf