After the House voted this month to defund a major part of the U.S. Census Bureau, the agency is taking the threat very seriously, with its supporters in both business and government rallying to preserve the annual questionnaire.
In a 232-190 vote, the House backed a move to end funding for the American Community Survey, which has replaced the long-form census as the chief way the government now collects most of its basic social statistics.
Top retailers have said the information is critical to doing business, while government bureaucrats point to the dozens of federal spending programs that rely on the data in order to properly dole out taxpayer money — and have pushed back against the House vote.
“Modern societies need current, detailed social and economic statistics. The U.S. is losing them,” census director Robert M. Groves said in a video blog the bureau released as it stepped into politicking — an area it usually tries to avoid.
After the 2000 census, the bureau decided it wanted to have the long-form data updated more regularly, so it converted the long form into the ACS, which now samples a rolling subset of Americans every year.
The bureau reels off more than a dozen statutes and federal regulations it says require the kinds of data it collects from the ACS, which runs to at least 11 pages for one person, and can be much longer for a large family.
And businesses say the data helps them figure everything from where to locate stores to how to market their products.
But with questions that probe everything from a householder’s average electricity bill to whether he is covered by health insurance and whether his home has flush toilets, the ACS has rankled an increasing number of people, who say it’s intrusive, and say all the Constitution requires is the decennial count to determine how many members of Congress each state will get.
Many in that growing movement have refused to complete the forms, daring the Census Bureau to impose the $5,000 fine allowed by law.
The move to defund the ACS came as an amendment to the annual spending bill that funds the Commerce Department.
“Any agency, bureau or department of government that has the potential of losing 5,579 employees would probably push back,” the Florida Republican said.
He said he hasn’t heard from the bureau directly since the May 9 vote, but he has heard from constituents who think the cut is a good idea.
“These are the kinds of things I was sent to Congress to take care of,” Mr. Webster said.