The House Appropriations Committee approved the Commerce Justice Science (CJS) appropriations legislation on July 15, 2021, meeting the Biden Administration’s request for $1,442,401,000 for the Census Bureau. It includes $309,865,000 for Current Surveys and Programs ($21,462,000 above the FY 2021 enacted amount) and $1,132,537,000 for Periodic Censuses and Programs ($314,296,000 above the FY 2021 enacted level).
“While we’re appreciative the Administration and the House Appropriations Committee provided an increase in funding from FY 2021, when at this point in the decennial census cycle we would ordinarily see a decrease, the Census Project remains committed to a higher level of funding for essential census programs,” said Census Project Co-Director Howard Fienberg in a press release urging the Senate to properly support Census Bureau modernization.
The committee report provides further details on various policy and funding fronts:
- Appropriations accounts will remain the same, for now: The Committee rejects “the new appropriations account structure proposed by the Administration”, but “welcomes continued dialogue with the Department on this effort.”
- Prioritize cyber protections for internal census systems: While the Committee “applauds the efforts that led the Census Bureau to successfully and securely execute its first digital-age decennial census, including its work with the Cybersecurity Infrastructure Security Agency”, the report expresses concerns about “vulnerabilities that could expose personal census data, thereby undermining the faith in census statistics which are vital to democratic institutions. These vulnerabilities include both system infrastructure weaknesses that could allow motivated cyberhackers to infiltrate Census Bureau servers, as well as reidentification attacks that threaten the confidentiality of personal census data.” The report directs the Bureau “to prioritize cyber protections for internal systems”.
- Consult stakeholders regarding the application of disclosure avoidance methods (including differential privacy): The Committee Report lays out expectations for “high standards of disclosure avoidance for publicly accessible data, while also ensuring the availability of data products that are useful and sufficiently accurate to inform policy decisions and resource allocations,” as well as regular consultations with Census Bureau “stakeholders, including members of its advisory committees, regarding the application of disclosure avoidance methods, and to keep the Committee updated on these efforts.”
- Develop mobile, multilingual, and user-friendly access to census data products: The Committee requires “a report no later than 180 days after enactment of this Act” from the Census Bureau about “its expansion efforts toward mobile, multilingual, and user-friendly access to census data products, including a cost-benefit analysis of expanding the accessibility of this data to a smartphone application.”
- Begin research or pilot development on proxy data collection of sexual orientation and gender identity questions: The Committee “urges the Census Bureau to begin research or pilot development on proxy data collection” of sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) “questions in current surveys, in line with standard administrative rules and procedures for adding or modifying existing survey content, and to keep the Committee apprised of these efforts.”
- Race and ethnicity data collection and reporting improvements: The Committee Report urges the Census Bureau and Office of Management and Budget (OMB) “to facilitate appropriate, scientifically-guided revisions” to federal statistical standards governing collection and reporting of race and ethnicity data “that will allow the Bureau to modernize its collection of race and ethnicity data, including the addition of a Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) ethnicity category and a combined race and Hispanic origin question, as soon as practicable.” The Bureau also would need to “report to the Committee, no later than 180 days after enactment of this Act, on its plan for implementing updated race and ethnicity questions for the 2030 Census and the American Community Survey, including whether the Census Bureau believes that additional testing will be necessary.”
- High Frequency Data Program and census pulse surveys: The provided appropriations for Current Surveys and Programs includes “the requested $10,000,000 for a new High Frequency Data Program that builds upon the success of the ‘pulse’ surveys, which the Census Bureau conducted in response to the COVID–19 pandemic to measure the impacts to small businesses and households. The Census Bureau is directed to keep the Committee updated on new initiatives the Census Bureau will explore under this program to produce timelier and more relevant economic and demographic statistics.”
- Use existing resources to increase the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) response rate: The Report reduces the SIPP appropriation by $1 million, as requested by the Administration, because that money was “a one-time expense related to a study funded in fiscal year 2021 to evaluate cost effective collection methods or alternative sources of comparable data on the economic well-being of Americans,” but directs the Bureau to “update the Committee on the findings of this study and encourages the Census Bureau to utilize all available resources to support an increase to the SIPP response rate.”
The House CJS Appropriations bill will likely be voted on the House floor as part of a “minibus” combination of funding bills.