Getting Ready for Census 2020

Cross-posted from the Census Project Blog.

Over the past several years leading up to the taking of Census 2010, there were a number of setbacks for both the funding and the taking of the current decennial census. No presidential administration or Congress pays much attention to decennial census funding, which runs into the billions of dollars, until the final few years of each decade. Until then, it’s an uphill fight by the Census Bureau to secure operational funding on the 10-year cycle needed to finance and plan each decennial census.

This time around there were budget fights with both the Bush Administration and Congress. Further, a huge miscalculation by the Bureau itself over the proposed use of handheld computers for Census 2010 cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.
Infighting between the Census Bureau and its supervisor – the Department of Commerce – didn’t help matters.
Now, Congress is considering the so-called Census Oversight, Efficiency and Management Reform Act of 2010. Introduced on a bipartisan basis and already approved by a key Senate committee, the proposed act would make the Census Bureau director more independent by having her/him report directly to the Secretary of Commerce and fixing a term limit of five years, with the 10-year decennial planning cycle split into two five-year phases. Further, the yearly budget proposal of the Bureau sent to Congress as well as congressional testimony would not have to be “cleared” first by the Department of Commerce as it is submitted.
Seven former Census Bureau directors, both Republicans and Democrats, endorsed the proposed legislation. Each has their own story to tell Congress about the infighting that occurred during their term of office. The former directors’ statement endorsing the Act states that “we strongly believe that the time has come for the Census Bureau to be much more independent and transparent.” Well said! Now it is up to Congress to act.