September 2016 Update


Congressional oversight hearing scheduled — The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Subcommittee on Government Operations, will hold a hearing on Thursday, September 29 @ 2:00pm ET (2247 Rayburn House Office Building) to review the results of the 2016 Census Test and evaluate efforts to ensure IT system security for the 2020 Census. The site test took place last spring (with an April 1, 2016 “Census Day”) in parts of Los Angeles County and Harris County, Texas.

Witnesses will include Census Director John Thompson and Census Bureau CIO Kevin Smith, and Robert Goldenkoff and Carol Cha Harris from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), Congress’ watchdog agency. Committee hearings often are webcast live;more information is available on the committee’s website.

FY2017 appropriations update — Lawmakers are racing to pass a temporary spending bill that will keep the federal government operating past the end of Fiscal Year 2016 onSeptember 30, before heading home to campaign. The so-called Continuing Resolution (CR) will fund most federal agencies and programs at current (FY2016) levels throughDecember 9. The lame-duck Congress will return to Washington after the November 8thelections to continue work on long-term funding for FY2017, which starts October 1.

The short-term measure will not include a so-called anomaly for the Census Bureau, which would have boosted agency funding over the FY2016 level while the CR is in effect. The Census Bureau’s FY2016 appropriation was $1.3 billion, including $599 million for 2020 Census planning and $230 million for the American Community Survey (ACS). The Administration requested $1.6 billion for the bureau in FY2017, including $778 million for the 2020 Census (+$179m) and $251 million (+20m) for the ACS. Therefore, like most agencies, the Census Bureau is restricted to spending money at a pro-rated level based on 2016 funding for the 10 weeks covered by the CR.


Collection of race and ethnicity data: 2015 NCT results  — The Census Bureau will release preliminary results from the 2015 National Content Test (NCT) within the next week, highlighting major research findings on question format for collecting race and ethnicity data in the 2020 Census and American Community Survey (ACS), including whether the bureau will use a combined race and national origin question and add a new Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) category. Census Bureau staff will brief the agency’s National Advisory Committee on October 3 (1:00-3:00pm) and Scientific Advisory Committee on October 6 (2:00-4:00pm ET) on the NCT findings; stakeholders can view and/or listen to the virtual public meetings.

The NCT, a national sample of 1.2 million households in the U.S. and Puerto Rico, took place a year ago (September 1, 2015 “Census Day”). In addition to evaluating different versions of questions on race and national origin, the self-response-only test included new versions of the census household relationship question and probes for determining who should be counted as part of each household, an important factor in ensuring an accurate enumeration.

In related news, the U.S. Office of Management and Budget, which sets the federal race and ethnicity categories and provides guidance to federal agencies on data collection and tabulation methods, is expected to issue a Federal Register notice in October that will begin the process of revising the Standards for the Classification of Federal Data on Race and Ethnicity, based in part on the Census Bureau’s research and testing this decade, although the extent of possible revisions is not yet known. The last significant changes to the race and ethnicity categories occurred before the 2000 Census, when OMB oversaw a multi-year process of public comment and discussion with stakeholders, including Congress, before finalizing the new policy in 1997.

2020 Census Residence Criteria: Stakeholders urge new rule for incarcerated persons — The Prison Policy Initiative (PPI) reported that the Census Bureau received almost 30,000 comments, representing the views of more than 100,000 people, in response to its proposal to continue counting incarcerated persons at prisons instead of at their home address. The comments, which included letters from two former Census Bureau directors, leaders of 35 foundations, and 40 civil rights groups, were submitted in response to a June 30, 2016 Federal Register notice on proposed final 2020 Census Residence Criteria and Residence Situations, which govern where people are counted in the decennial census. Visit PPI’s website for more information on the effort to end “prison gerrymandering.”


2015 ACS data released — The Census Bureau released the 2015 one-year ACS statistics on September 15, offering a wealth of demographic and socio-economic data on more than 40 topics for communities with populations of 65,000 or more, including all states and large cities and counties. The bureau will release the 2011-2015 5-year statistics for areas as small as census tracts and block groups on December 8. The 5-year estimates average data collected over the relevant time period from an annual sample of roughly 3.5 million addresses, to ensure acceptable levels of statistical reliability for data on neighborhoods, sparsely populated areas (such as rural counties), and numerically small population groups (such as veterans, persons with disabilities, and race and ethnic subgroups). More information on the 2015 ACS data is available at

Examining ways to streamline the ACS — The National Academies Press released an electronic version of “Reducing Response Burden in the American Community Survey: Proceedings of a Workshop,” which summarizes the presentations and discussion of a March 2016 forum organized by The National Academies’ (Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine) Committee on National Statistics and sponsored by the Census Bureau. The workshop examined ways to reduce respondent burden in the ACS, such as substituting information from government databases (administrative records) for some questions, developing communications strategies to build support for the survey, and applying better sampling techniques.