Lawmaker Renews GOP Bid to Defund a Key Census Survey

Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C. Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C. House Committee on Homeland Security

A bill to reform the Census Bureau by repealing its authority to “conduct mandatory and invasive” surveys has been placed in the hopper by Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C, drawing criticisms from political groups, scholars and business interests.

H.R. 1638 would force the bureau to discontinue a key economic survey, an agriculture survey and a mid-decade survey. “Right now the Census Bureau can ask citizens very invasive questions, and if they don’t respond, the government shows up at their door and threatens them with a fine” of up to $5,000, Duncan said in a statement Friday. “Americans are fed up with these mandatory census surveys and they’re asking us to stop the harassment.”

Last year, a similar amendment by Rep. Daniel Webster, R-Fla., would have defunded the American Community Survey, a 28-page economic questionnaire sent annually to 3 million Americans. It cleared the House, but died in the Senate.

Duncan’s version, he said, was prompted by complaints from his constituents. “While the Census Bureau already has a legal obligation to keep people’s information confidential,” Duncan said, “we all know that in an age of cyberattacks and computer hacking that ensuring people’s privacy can be difficult….The Census Bureau shouldn’t be forcing anyone to share the route they take their kids to school, or any information other than how many people live in their home.”

The bill drew criticism from the liberal-leaning Center for American Progress. “Duncan’s bill wouldn’t just eviscerate the U.S. statistical system,” Kristina Costa, a CAP speechwriter and policy analyst in economic policy, told Government Executive. “We think it would blind business and government agencies to information about really important economic and social changes.” She pointed to support for the surveys from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, noting the data’s utility in measuring unemployment, routing highway spending and determining where to place new businesses or traffic lights. “Accurate, timely and transparent census data are critical to functioning of the economy and are our biggest economic advantage in the global marketplace,” Costa said. “To go after all but the simple nose count is pound-foolish, and you can’t claim it’s pennywise.”

Also opposed is the Census Project, a coalition of 600 associations, think tanks, academics, local officials and civil rights groups. Defunding the economic survey would mean “we might not need congressmen, because just about all of them rely on Census Bureau data to justify their existence,” wrote the project’s blogger Terri Ann Lowenthal.

In an April letter to congressional leaders, the group wrote, “We cannot overstate the importance of both the decennial enumeration and ACS to the work we all do. The data are central to our democracy, affecting not only political representation from Congress down to local school boards, but also the prudent allocation of federal aid to states and localities each year. Businesses use Census Bureau data daily to make investment decisions on location, hiring, and useful products and services that are key to our economic recovery and growth.”

The Census Project has also criticized the Obama administration for its pace in selecting a new Census director. “The Census Bureau needs a permanent director, particularly as the agency confronts serious budget challenges, defends the American Community Survey, and conducts critical testing and systems development for Census 2020,” the group wrote to Obama.

Duncan offered one concession. “As a former small business owner, I recognize that some economic data gathering is beneficial,” he said. “However, it should be voluntary, industry-driven, and not mandated by the government under penalty of law. I’m confident in our ability to develop innovative ways to gather information without harassing people, invading their privacy, or threatening them with fines. Americans are tired of too much government meddling in their daily lives.”

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by G Suite

    Cross-Agency Teamwork, Anytime and Anywhere

    Dan McCrae, director of IT service delivery division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

    Download
  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

    Download
  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

    Download
  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.