GOP Hocus Pocus in FY 2018 Census Budget
Last Thursday, the House Appropriations Committee voted to increase funding for the U.S. Census Bureau by only $37 million for FY 2018. That’s only a $10 million bump up from the original Trump administration budget request for the next fiscal year.
In its preliminary budget estimates for FY 2018 issued last fall, the Census Bureau said it would need an additional $300+ million for FY 2018 to fund an extensive End-To-End field test of 700,000 targeted households in rural West Virginia, urban Providence, Rhode Island, and suburban Washington state. The field test was intended to test a new IT-focused census and to test internet census-counting techniques for the first time in an extensive setting.
Now, because of budget cuts, the Census Bureau is dropping the West Virginia and Washington state test sites.
To say the least, this puts the 2020 Census in danger of a botched count.
In response, House Democrats on the Appropriations Committee offered an amendment to the spending bill increasing the FY 2018 census budget by more than $300 million to fully fund the 2018 field tests. The amendment was rejected by the committee on a party-line vote with all GOP members voting against the proposal.
Ironically the committee report which accompanies the approved committee FY 2018 budget (and which was written by the House Republicans) calls upon “the Census Bureau to reconsider its proposal to cancel two of the three test sites scheduled for 2018.” Committee member and U.S. Representative Grace Meng (D-NY) noted the report calls for something that the Appropriations Committee had just cut, funds necessary to implement its own budget!
The New York Times comments on these developments and others in an editorial today.
Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times published an op-ed detailing the effects on California of a failed 2020 Census.
After last week’s Census Project blog post stated that the FY 2018 Trump administration budget request for the Census Bureau contained just a $51 million increase for the Census Bureau, several sharp-eyed project stakeholders sent us email saying we were too generous to the new administration.
They said that the FY 2018 proposal for the Census Bureau was tens of millions of dollars lower. According to the administration’s own congressional testimony last Thursday, our Census Project stakeholders were right and we were wrong!
In testimony before the House Appropriations Committee’s Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Subcommittee, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross said that the budget request from the Trump Administration was a skimpy $1.5 billion, or just a $27 million increase for the Census Bureau next year.
Something now must give. Congress has to save the 2020 Census. Otherwise, Census Bureau options could include: savaging other important survey programs like the American Community Survey (ACS) and the Economic Census to salvage at least part of the 2018 End-To- End field test; cutting back important components of the test; or reducing test sites. None of these options are good ones.
Earlier this week the Trump administration released its FY 2018 census budget proposal to Congress. It wasn’t much better than the so-called “skinny budget” proposal released in April.
President Trump proposes just a $51 million increase in Census Bureau funding for FY 2018. But, next year’s census planning calls for a huge 700,000-household test in three states of the decennial count’s new census-taking techniques relying on the internet and IT to cut costs and provide for a fair and accurate census. It can’t be done by skimping on decennial planning funds.
The chart below shows how decennial planning money was allocated each year over the past 40 years. In each previous decennial census, a large ramp-up occurred in the “8” year of the decennial cycle.
If President Trump’s budget is enacted, the nation could be facing an historic census disaster. It’s up to Congress to save the 2020 Census!
At an oversight hearing of the House Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies this week, it was clear that there are two conflicting views of preparations for the 2020 Census. Republicans on this central committee, which controls the purse strings in the House, are concerned about overruns in 2020 Census budget planning. Meanwhile, Democrats on the committee are concerned about underfunding the next decennial census.
Chairman John Culberson (R-TX) sharply criticized Census Bureau Director John Thompson for announcing that the price tag for the overall 2020 Census had increased by more than $300 million because the IT components of the plan had been underpriced.
Committee member and Representative Matt Cartwright (D-PA) said continued underfunding of 2020 Census planning was “penny wise and pound foolish.” In fact, he partially blamed the cost overruns on the lack of previous funding in the census budget to get the job done at a reasonable price. He warned that similar, future budget cuts could lead to the same result.
While the policymakers on the subcommittee wrangle, Congress itself is set to approve a FY 2017 census budget that is a historically low appropriation at this point in decade cycle.
The Census Project believes the upcoming FY 2018 census budget represents the last, best chance for congressional policymakers and the Trump administration to get things right for the critical 2018 End-to-End field test of all components for the new, innovative 2020 Census.
By Phil Sparks
Over the past two months, stakeholders of the Census Project – including the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO), the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the International Council of Shopping Centers and the National Association of Counties – visited more than 40 congressional offices, warning them of the consequences of inadequate funding for the 2020 Census.
Our stakeholders reported back that many of the key offices they visited needed an in-depth updating on both the importance of the next decennial and how it is funded. And, many political challenges lie ahead.
For example, one knowledgeable congressional aide predicted to our stakeholders that Congress will simply “flat line” this year’s census budget at the same levels as last year, and kick the can down the road.
The Census Project believes this would be dangerous. The Census Bureau needs significant, additional funds in 2018 for the so-called End-to-End field test of new technologies designed to make the 2020 Census more efficient and less costly to the American taxpayer.
Something has got to give, and Census Project stakeholders are working hard with policymakers in Congress to understand the consequences of underfunding the next decennial census.