The Trump Administration released the full Fiscal Year 2018 budget proposal this morning, offering what one trade association called "woefully inadequate" funding for the Census Bureau.
Under the White House's proposed FY18 budget, the Census would be allocated $1.49 billion, a $20 million increase from FY17 (which was $1.47 billion, signed into law a couple of weeks ago). That funding includes $276 million for Salaries and Expenses/Current surveys and programs, and $1.248 billion for Periodic Censuses and Programs (the line item for the American Community Survey (ACS) and the 2020 Census).
The Insights Association, the leading and largest nonprofit association representing the marketing research and analytics industry, considers full funding of the ACS and the decennial Census to be a top public policy priority because accurate data from them are essential to producing any statistically representative research studies in the United States. These programs are also central to promoting economic growth, guiding the prudent allocation of public and private resources, and sustaining a strong democracy.
Although the Census Project coalition is still working out the estimated amount that the Census should receive in FY18, based on prior estimates and dececennial cycle percentage increases, the initial estimates suggest more than $1.8 billion will be needed in FY18 to properly prepare for the decennial Census, especially the 2018 end-to-end test run and the IT infrastructure improvements. So instead of a $20 million increase from the prior fiscal year, we should probably instead be looking at a more than $300 million increase.
"When you're trying to balance the federal budget," commented Howard Fienberg, director of government affairs for the Insights Association, "you have to carefully prioritize. The White House appears to have avoided doing so, neglecting a Constitutionally-required function of government in the process."
As Fienberg explained, "The FY18 funding request for the Census Bureau is woefully inadequate. Increased funding is necessary to prepare for a modern Census with technological innovation. Underfunding the Census in FY18 puts us on a potential collision course with massive emergency appropriations to try to get the decennial headcount done accurately and on time."
"And yet," he concluded, "our biggest concern will be that, as Congress struggles to make the funding numbers add up, they may be tempted to divert funding from the American Community Survey (ACS)." The ACS, a rolling survey that replaced the old Census long form, "cannot afford to decrease sample sizes any further without losing the deliverability of accurate representative data on some 40 percent of (primarily rural) U.S. counties and small towns."
[This article originally pegged the FY18 request at $1.52 billion, a $50 million increase. It turns out that $30 million of that was part of a mandatory program, so the numbers have since been adjusted down.]