The decennial Census and the American Community Survey (ACS) need increased investment for critical testing as we begin to ramp up to the 2020 headcount. Instead, as Census Project co-director Terri Ann Lowenthal puts it, Congress is preparing to "ramp down."
Congress will likely pass a short-term "continuing resolution" in the next week to fund the federal government until December 11. Instead of continuing funding at the exact same level as the prior fiscal year, it would fund fiscal year 2015 at .05 percent less. Despite lobbying by MRA and our Census Project coalition allies, the legislation does not appear to include any funding "anomaly" to provide respite for the Census Bureau from these cuts. With both the House and Senate having hacked away at the President's budget request for Bureau operations during the regular funding process, this is unfortunately not a big surprise.
The nation faces dire federal financial decisions. However, the Constitutionally-required functions of the 2020 Census and the ongoing ACS are not the place to scrounge for pennies under the federal couch cushions.
It is possible to conduct the 2020 Census without funding important testing and preparation in fiscal year 2015 (including a tests supposed to start this month), as long as we don't mind either:
- spending an extra $5 billion or more on another archaic-but-relatively-safe headcount conducted with paper and pencil; or
- rolling out survey tools and advancements without adequate testing, such that we might seriously impair the quality and reliability of the 2020 Census.
Neither option seems appealing. We hope that the Census Bureau can get creative for a few months and buy time for Congress to recognize the immense long-term costs involved in underfunding the Census in the short-term.