Former Census Directors: Budget Delays Jeopardize Full, Fair, and Accurate Count

A bipartisan group of former directors from the U.S. Census Bureau this week urged Congress to provide “a full-year appropriation for the 2020 Census as soon as legislatively possible, to avoid disruptions in the launch and steady implementation of robust census operations.”

As previously reported on Conduit Street, Congress last month approved a short-term spending measure — known as a continuing resolution (CR) — to avoid the possibility of another government shutdown. The CR funds agencies at 2019 levels through November 21, buying legislators more time to negotiate over several full-year appropriations bills.

But as the U.S. Senate continues to squabble over a package spending bills — including the FY 20 Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) budget bill, which includes funding for the Census Bureau and decennial census — seven former directors of the Census Bureau say the delay could jeopardize a full, fair, and accurate decennial census.

According to a letter sent to Congress this week:

We are deeply concerned that the 2020 Census effort could be hampered if the Census Bureau does not have the certainty of a full year funding level soon, whether the vehicle for such funding is a final Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Appropriations bill (standing alone or in an Omnibus appropriations package) or a second Continuing Appropriations Resolution.

We know that Congress continues to work diligently on finalizing appropriations bills for Fiscal Year 2020, which started on October 1. In the meantime, most of the government — including the Census Bureau — is operating at prior year (FY 2019) funding levels under the FY 2020 Continuing Appropriations Resolution (P.L. 116-59). Federal agency officials and program administrators understand how to continue their respective functions under the interim measure, as do Census Bureau officials whenever Continuing Resolutions are necessary.

However, this year is different because it is a census year. There are both constitutional and statutory deadlines for completing the census and publishing certain datasets; the enumeration itself revolves around a specific Census Day — April 1, 2020. The bureau must plan and prepare now for final modifications, such as expanded communications, increased Partnership Program staff, and Questionnaire Assistance Centers (all of which Congress directed). Otherwise, the window of opportunity (already closing) will be lost as momentum and focus shifts to peak operations. Similarly, the Bureau may face hiring challenges stemming from the low unemployment economy (as it did in 2000) — a barrier that is best addressed in advance, rather than during the flurry of peak census operations, by carefully considering variable pay increases.

Stay tuned to Conduit Street for more information.

Useful Links

Previous Conduit Street Coverage: Feds Narrowly Avert Another Government Shutdown… for Now

An Open Letter to the Bipartisan Leadership of Congress and Congressional Appropriations Committees, from former U.S. Census Bureau Directors

Previous Conduit Street Coverage: State Allocates $5 Million in Grants to Promote 2020 Census

Previous Conduit Street Coverage: State Census Panel Weighs Spending Priorities

With the 2020 Census just around the corner, the time to prepare is now.

At the MACo Winter Conference session, “2020 Census: The Foundation for Our Future,” learn best practices, community engagement strategies, and data tools for increasing response rates and ensuring a fair and accurate 2020 Census. The session will be held on Wednesday, December 4, 2019; from 3:15 pm – 4:15 pm.

The 2019 MACo Winter Conference, Building for the Future,” will be held on December 4-6, 2019, at the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay Hotel in Cambridge, Maryland.

Learn more about MACo’s Winter Conference: