Monday, May 14, 2012

American Communities Survey Under Attack

The U.S. House of Representatives voted last week (232 - 190) to eliminate all funding for the Census Bureau's American Community Survey (ACS), which was a survey created to replace the traditional census long form starting with the 2010 Census.  The vote essentially was along party lines, with all but 11 Republicans voting in favor and all but four (4) Democrats voting against.  The amendment was sponsored by Rep. Daniel Webster (R-FL).

In addition, right before the House considered the Webster amendment, it approved, by voice vote, an amendment sponsored by Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX) to make response to the ACS voluntary, by prohibiting both the Census Bureau and the Justice Department from using funds to enforce penalties in the  Census Act that make survey response mandatory.

While this move in the House of Representatives is but a first step to stripping the ACS from the Census Bureau, it would still have to be approved (and assumedly brought back to committee) by the Senate and then ultimately approved and signed by the President. These seem less likely to occur but are not outside of the realm of possibilities.

The American Community Survey, which collects data on some 3 million households each year, is the largest survey next to the decennial census. The ACS—which has a long bipartisan history, including its funding in the mid-1990s and full implementation in 2005—provides data that help determine how more than $400 billion in federal and state funds are spent annually. Businesses also rely heavily on it to do such things as decide where to build new stores, hire new employees, and get valuable insights on consumer spending habits. 

The following two articles provide a variety of insight into last week's Congressional action. The first is from Business Week  and the other was posted by the Washington Times. Regardless of one's political perspective, one of the great dangers in the elimination of nationally collected data on everything from education, to poverty to miles driven to work is that agencies that rely on such data for grant applications will now have to figure out how to get it on their own. Much of the data can ONLY be found in the ACS.