April 2016 Update

Fiscal Year 2017 Appropriations: On April 21, the Senate Appropriations Committee passed its version of the FY2017 Commerce, Justice, and Science and Related Agencies Appropriations (CJS) bill (S. 2837), which includes the U.S. Census Bureau. The measure allocates $1.518 billion for the bureau, $148.3 million above current year funding, but $115.3 million below the Administration’s request of $1.634 billion (all numbers rounded).

All of the committee’s proposed increase would go to the Periodic Censuses and Programs account, which covers the decennial census and ACS, Economic Census, other cyclical programs, and support activities, such as the new enterprise data collection and processing IT system. The recommended funding level of $1.248 billion for Periodic Censuses is $100 million below the budget request. As in previous years, the report accompanying the appropriations bill (Senate Rpt. 114-239) directs the Census Bureau to focus its 2020 Census spending on “activities that have the greatest potential to reduce cost and risk… Controlling costs for the 2020 Decennial Census remains a top oversight concern[.]” The committee highlighted the Bureau’s plan to use administrative records and commercial data at various points in the census process, to “reduce unnecessary and costly duplication and to conduct more efficient non-response follow up,” urging the agency to obtain access, as necessary, to data sets from Federal, state and local, and Tribal governments.

The committee reiterated support for the American Community Survey (ACS), emphasizing that the ACS is often the primary or only source of data for rural areas and small towns, and on a “wide range of topics, including the needs of veterans, retirees, and families with school-age children, in order to reliably serve those communities.” The report also gave a thumbs-up to continued development of the Census Enterprise Data Collection and Processing (CEDCaP) initiative, which integrates these key IT activities into a single, scalable system for all agency programs. The Bureau must ensure that the system is “fully secured against cyber attacks and intrusions before any part of the system becomes operational,” the committee cautioned.

The Senate bill allocates $270 million for Current Surveys and Programs (CSP), the same as the FY2016 funding level and $15.3 million below the budget request. The Bureau’s second main budget account covers ongoing economic and demographic measurements, such as the Survey of Income and Program Participation.

Appropriations action in the House has been stalled by the chamber’s failure to pass a budget resolution for FY2017, with some conservatives balking over the top-line spending levels set in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 last November. Without a budget blueprint, the House cannot take up annual appropriations bills until mid-May. Look for activity on the House FY2017 CJS bill to start sometime next month.

– Reps. Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) sent a letter, signed by 76 other Representatives, to the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, and Science, requesting report language in the FY2017 bill in support of “expanded data collection” by the Census Bureau on sexual orientation and gender identity. Rep. Schiff’s press release includes a copy of the letter.

2020 Census Planning:

2016 Address Canvassing Test: The Census Bureau announced two sites for its October 2016 address canvassing test: St. Louis, MO, and Buncombe County, NC. This will be the final field test (before the 2018 End-to-End Readiness Test) of new methods to update and verify the Master Address File (MAF). The bureau plans to use “in office procedures”, including aerial imagery, GPS tools, and government and commercial databases, for 75 percent of addresses. It will deploy address listers to areas covering 25 percent of homes, in communities with significant growth or change in the housing stock or with significant “non-traditional” addressing, such as rural and remote areas and American Indian reservations.

The Census Bureau published a Federal Register notice seeking comments on the upcoming test. The 60-day comment period ends on May 23, 2016.

2017 Census Tests: Next year, the Census Bureau will conduct field tests in several sites, as it finalizes the 2020 Census design in advance of an End-to-End Readiness Test (the modern equivalent of previous census Dress Rehearsals) in 2018. All tests will have an April 1st “Census Day”; recruitment for temporary staff will begin this fall.

– The “2017 Census Test” will take place on Tribal lands in Washington State (Colville Indian Reservation and Off-Reservation Trust Land) and North and South Dakota (Standing Rock Reservation). Primary goals of the test are evaluating a possible new “tribal enrollment” question and refining “Update/Enumerate” operations. The “Update/Enumerate” method is used in areas with non-traditional addressing, such as remote and rural communities and American Indian reservations. Census takers visit each housing unit in person to verify/update the address list and collect census responses on the spot. (The 2020 Census design does not include the former “Update/Leave” operation, when census takers visited each home to verify the address list and dropped off a census form — the “leave” part — for residents to mail back.)

– For the first time, the Census Bureau will test census operations and procedures in Puerto Rico. The test will cover approximately 123,000 homes in the San Juan metro area municipios of Carolina, Loiza, and Trujillo Alto.

And, in case you missed it… The Census Bureau announced the appointment of Tim Olson as the Associate Director for Field Operations. Tim has a long record of service with the Bureau. He was the first Respondent Advocate for Household Surveys when the position was created in 2013, and later became the Chief of Field Division. Prior to that, he worked in the Seattle Regional Census Office and the Field Directorate at Census HQ in Suitland, MD. Many stakeholders worked with Tim when he directed the 2010 Census Partnership Program. We congratulate Tim and look forward to working with him to ensure a successful census and ACS well into the future.