Big Data – Part Two

About a year ago Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives voted to eliminate the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS). The House also voted to make participation in the ACS voluntary if funding for the survey survived. Fortunately, the Senate and the Obama Administration restored funding for the ACS and stopped efforts to make the ACS a voluntary survey.

The ACS, now a yearly release of community-level data on everything from housing, roads and public transportation to health and veterans benefits, replaced the so-called long form in the 2010 decennial census. Participation is mandatory because it’s part of the decennial census process. Only now the ACS surveys 3 million households a year as part of a 10-year cycle that includes one out of 10 households every decade.

The ACS is used to distribute more than $400 billion each year in federal funds to states and localities. It is also used by business to site plants, open shopping centers and understand the demographics of their customers down to the local level.

Now once again, the ACS is under attack, even as GOP policymakers tout the uses of Big Data by private industry. Representative Ted Poe (R-TX) has reintroduced his legislation from last year to make the ACS voluntary. The Senate sponsor of the Poe bill is Senator Rand Paul. A study by the Census Bureau shows that this move would increase survey costs by 30 percent and reduce accuracy by one-third. Poe believes the ACS is “big government at its worst.”

Supporters of the ACS believe just the opposite. The ACS enables government to carefully target its resources in a non-partisan way to localities throughout the country. Its a good example of the benefits of Big Data!