Elections Matter

by Phil Sparks

Elections matter. Even “status quo” elections. In the House of Representatives, there are still American Community Survey (ACS) skeptics. In the Senate, our ACS champions are still there or were re-elected. Finally, the Obama Administration has yet to be fully engaged on the ramifications of the next federal budget in regards to Census 2020 or the ACS.

The second half of the Census Bureau’s FY 2013 budget will have to be approved by Congress and the president in the early spring of next year. The Bureau’s current operating budget for the coming months has been “flat-lined” at the levels of the last fiscal year. However, this means that current Census 2020 planning will continue short-term. This planning includes such things as the naming and preliminary meetings of the National Advisory Committee (NAC) for the next decennial (although both the size and the composition of the committee are certainly disappointing to many census stakeholders). Further, the important internet test of the Bureau’s ability to capture census information via cyberspace will be done in January as part of the monthly ACS. These are both important planning developments.

Next spring, Washington policymakers will again be challenged by an agreement to continue the ACS at its current budgetary and operational levels. This current deadlock will be little noticed by official Washington. Business, government and nonprofit groups which depend on reliable, localized ACS data for planning and policy purposes will need to keep an eagle eye on the ACS budget process over the next several months.

The Census Project and its allies and supporters will be updated on a continuing, regular basis as before. In addition, the Project, working with its supporters, is putting together a wide variety of fact sheets detailing how ACS data is integral to planning and policy for things like veterans’ needs, children’s programs, housing, transportation, business and public health. We must ensure that the upcoming debate on the usefulness of the ACS clearly demonstrates the downside of cutting back or eliminating this important component of the decennial census.

Now that the election is over the real work begins!