Center for American Progress

RELEASE: New CAP Report Offers Common-Sense Recommendations to Ensure Accurate, Comprehensive Census
Press Release

Washington, D.C. — Today, Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker will testify before the House Appropriations Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies panel where the 2020 Census and related American Community Survey—the modern version of the census long form—are expected to be in the spotlight. Given the integral importance of the decennial census to progressive policy as the foundation of the nation’s representative democracy, the Center for American Progress released a new report today examining the lack of congressional attention on the next census and the consequences for designing and planning a modern 2020 Census that employs the cost-saving methods Congress now requires without sacrificing data quality. The report is accompanied by a video outlining the need for the Census Bureau to have stable funding.

The report, “Meeting the Challenges of the 2020 Census,“ comes as the Census Bureau prepares to lock down all major operations and systems before a major operational readiness test in 2018. The next population count is likely to incorporate sweeping reforms from the traditional census design to meet the challenges of counting a rapidly changing nation, as well as congressional directives to hold costs to the 2010 Census spending level. Without adequate fiscal resources and oversight from Congress, the accuracy of the 2020 Census could be at significant risk, especially in historically hard-to-count communities.

In recent decades, the Census Bureau’s ability to carry out its mission objectively and efficiently has been compromised by a lack of timely support for planning resources, as well as by use of the appropriations process to advance fundamental changes to census design and scope. The new report underscores the critical importance of an accurate, comprehensive census to our democracy and as a vehicle for charting economic and social progress and needs—especially as the population grows more racially, ethnically, and culturally diverse. Additionally, the report explains the challenges the Census Bureau faces in building sustained interest and support in Congress and the executive branch for its data-collection programs.

“It’s time for lawmakers to get serious about ensuring a fair and accurate census that meets the nation’s vast needs for objective, reliable data. America’s largest peacetime activity, embedded in the first few lines of the Constitution, deserves thoughtful, bipartisan oversight and long-term fiscal support,” said Terri Ann Lowenthal, co-author of the report.

Finally, CAP offers the following common-sense recommendations to meet the challenges discussed in the report:

  1. Change the Deptartment of Commerce organizational structure so that Census Bureau director reports directly to the secretary, rather than the under secretary for economic affairs, to streamline the decision-making process and improve efficiency.
  2. Require that the president and Congress propose and approve funding for decennial censuses in five-year blocks to facilitate thoughtful consideration of the complexities and goals of this constitutionally mandated activity.
  3. Change congressional rules for consideration of the decennial census budget to prohibit reallocation of census funding to other programs within the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies appropriations account.
  4. Prohibit legislative riders on the Census Bureau’s appropriations bill to prevent attempts to modify the scope and structure of the census and related ACS outside of the regular authorizing process.

“A great way this Congress could renew the vision of the framers would be to honor Article I of the Constitution and fully support the census with these reforms,” said Ben Chevat, co-author of the report.

For more information or to speak to an expert on this topic, please contact Tanya S. Arditi at [email protected].