June 2016 Update

CENSUS PROJECT UPDATE
JUNE 2016

FY2017 APPROPRIATIONS HIGHLIGHTS:

  • Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA), senior Democrat on the Appropriations Commerce, Justice, and Science (CJS) Subcommittee, and Florida State Senator Rene Garcia (R-Miami) co-authored an op-ed that ran in the Sacramento Bee, emphasizing the importance of adequately funding census planning and preparations.
  • One hundred stakeholder organizations signed a Census Project letter to all Representatives and Senators, expressing concern about cuts to the Administration’s budget request in both the House and Senate Appropriations Committee-approved CJS bills and urging lawmakers to reject any amendments that would further reduce funding or make response to the American Community Survey (ACS) voluntary.

U.S. Senate: The Senate began consideration of the FY2017 CJS bill (H.R. 2578/S. 2837) on June 15 and promptly moved into a days-long debate (including a filibuster) on gun-control issues in the wake of the Orlando nightclub massacre.

As Senators filed amendments to the bill for possible consideration, The Census Project flagged two that would directly affect the Census Bureau’s ability to conduct an accurate 2020 Census and comprehensive ACS.

  • Sen. Deb Fischer (R-NE) (Amdt. #4711): Reduce Census Bureau appropriation by $148 million, which would eliminate any funding increase for FY2017, leaving the Bureau at its FY2016 (current year) funding level of roughly $1.1 billion.
  • Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) (Amdt. #4687): Require Census Bureau to include questions on citizenship and immigration status on the decennial census form. Sen. Vitter has made this proposal several times in the past; his goal is to exclude undocumented residents (and maybe all non-citizens; he has used the terms interchangeably) from the census-derived state population totals used for congressional apportionment and possibly for redistricting and allocating federal program funds to states and localities.

The Census Project’s Action Alert on the two amendments includes Talking Points on the consequences of enacting the Vitter amendment. (The Action Alert posted on our website reflects updates to the Talking Points.) The CJS bill is still pending in the Senate as of this writing, and we do not know when (or even if) these census amendments will be debated on the floor. Nevertheless, stakeholders should continue to let Senators know about the adverse consequences of the amendments for 2020 Census planning and implementation and for the ACS.

In its Statement of Administration Policy, routinely issued when a chamber starts consideration of a major bill, the Office of Management and Budget said the Administration “objects” to the funding level for the Census Bureau, warning that “the bill’s inadequate funding of research, testing, and implementation activity for the 2020 Decennial Census would undermine the Census Bureau’s efforts to reduce the costs of administering [the census] by more than $5 billion.”

U.S. House of Representatives: On May 24, the House Appropriations Committee approved its version of the CJS spending bill (H.R. 2578) without changing the funding levels the CJS Subcommittee recommended for Census Bureau programs – a cut of $164 million from the President’s budget request (see the May Census Project Update). We do not yet know when the full House will consider the bill.

In its report (H.Rept. 114-605) explaining the bill, the committee questioned the Census Bureau’s cost estimate for the 2020 Census, saying “no guidance or standard methodology was used to account for risks” and that “documentation of the assumptions in the estimate is lacking.” It asked for a report on how the Bureau will improve its lifecycle cost calculations. Lawmakers expressed support for development of the Census Enterprise Data Collection and Processing (CEDCaP) system to replace separate, often-redundant IT systems, but it requested quarterly briefings on the system’s development. The committee continued to raise concerns about “the burdensome nature of the ACS,” saying the Bureau should “focus on its core, constitutionally mandated decennial Census activities.” The report also highlighted the importance of language assistance for the census and other surveys, to help ensure the collection of accurate data on small population groups.

OTHER LEGISLATIVE NEWS

New bill on LGBT data: On May 27, Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) introduced legislation to require the collection of data on sexual orientation and gender identity in federal surveys, including the decennial census and American Community Survey. The “LGBT Data Inclusion Act” (H.R. 5373) had 68 original cosponsors and was referred to the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Last year, the U.S. Office of Management and Budget formed an interagency working group to examine best practices and research needs on measuring LGBT populations in federal surveys.

The Census Act (Title 13, U.S.C.) requires the Bureau to send the topics for inclusion in the decennial census (which includes the ACS) by April 1, 2017 (three years before Census Day) and the actual questions by April 1, 2018 (two years before Census Day) to Congress. The law does not require congressional approval of the questions; Congress can direct or change Census Bureau policies and decisions through the normal legislative process.

House committee hearing on 2020 Census IT challenges: The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform (OGR), which has jurisdiction over Census Bureau activities, held a hearing on June 8th titled “Census 2020: Examining the Readiness of Key Aspects of the Census Bureau’s 2020 Census Preparation.” Witnesses included Census Director John Thompson, Commerce Department Chief Information Officer Steve Cooper, and representatives of the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the Commerce Department’s Office of the Inspector General. The primary focus of the hearing was development of the Census Enterprise Data Collection and Processing (CEDCaP) system, which will provide the IT architecture for 2020 Census automation.

Many committee members were skeptical about the Census Bureau’s ability to meet its IT development schedule and expressed concern about issues such as Internet access in all communities (the “digital divide”), cyber-security, system capacity, and a contingency plan in case of system failures or cyber-threats. Several Republican members also challenged the need for data collected in the American Community Survey.

Witness statements and the webcast of the full hearing are available on the committee’s website.

2020 CENSUS AND ACS NEWS:

  • Tribal enrollment question under consideration – The Census Bureau is testing a question on Tribal enrollment for possible inclusion on the 2020 Census form. Cognitive testing and stakeholder briefings have taken place over the past year, with field testing planned during the 2017 Census Test. The Bureau has not made a final decision on whether to include the new question, which would be separate from the question(s) on race and ethnicity.
  • 2020 Census residence rules — The Census Bureau is expected to publish in the Federal Register this week the proposed “residence rules” for the 2020 Census. The rules govern where people are counted as of Census Day. The Bureau sought public comments on the 2010 Census rules a year ago; most of the comments addressed where incarcerated persons and deployed military personnel are counted. The Census Project will keep stakeholders apprised of developments on this issue.
  • 2020 Census IT architecture — The Census Bureau announced that it will use a Commercial Off-the-Shelf (COTS) platform, combined with custom solutions developed internally, for its 2020 Census data collection and processing system (CEDCaP), as well as for future census and survey work. More information on the “2020 Census Business Solution Architecture” decision is available through the Bureau’s 2020 Census Memorandum Series.
  • New CIO on board at Census Bureau — The Census Bureau has appointed Kevin Smith as its new Chief Information Officer and Associate Director for Information Technology, filling a lengthy vacancy that has vexed congressional overseers for some time. Mr. Smith previously served as the chief information security officer and deputy chief information office at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, an agency that also is part of the Department of Commerce.
  • 2015 ACS data release schedule announced — The Census Bureau will release the 2015 ACS 1-year estimates on September 15th and the 2011-2015 5-year estimates on December 8th.

AND FINALLY….

  • A dose of humor (with a serious message): Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) delivered a video message in support of the 2020 Census at the annual convening of the Funders’ Committee for Civic Participation (FCCP), a philanthropic affinity organization, held in St. Paul last month. Definitely worth the watch! Sen. Franken recently coordinated a “Dear Colleague” letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee in support of full funding for the 2020 Census and ACS in the FY2017 appropriations bill.
  • Stay up-to-date with our UPDATES: The monthly Census Project updates are now available on our website! Started in late 2015, the Updates summarize key policy and planning issues related to the 2020 Census and ACS.