Census Director Nominee Promises to Control Costs for 2020

first_imgThe biggest challenge facing the U.S. Census Bureau is to rein in the spiraling costs of the decennial census. Yesterday, at his confirmation hearing, the likely next census director told a Senate panel that he could break that cycle for the next census in 2020—but only if the agency is given enough money ahead of time to road-test putting the census online and making other changes in how the data are collected.John Thompson, now president of the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) in Chicago, Illinois, has been nominated by President Barack Obama to succeed Robert Groves as director of the Census Bureau. Trained as a statistician, Thompson knows the bureau well, having spent 27 years there and having led the 2000 census before joining NORC in 2002. And his return to the agency seems like a sure bet judging from the bipartisan support that he received during yesterday’s appearance before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.The 2010 census cost $13 billion, and that number is projected to exceed $25 billion for the 2020 census. But the committee’s chairman, Senator Tom Carper (D-DE), said that “a $25 billion decennial census is unacceptable.” Minutes later, the panel’s top Republican, Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn, called the figure “ridiculous.”Sign up for our daily newsletterGet more great content like this delivered right to you!Country *AfghanistanAland IslandsAlbaniaAlgeriaAndorraAngolaAnguillaAntarcticaAntigua and BarbudaArgentinaArmeniaArubaAustraliaAustriaAzerbaijanBahamasBahrainBangladeshBarbadosBelarusBelgiumBelizeBeninBermudaBhutanBolivia, Plurinational State ofBonaire, Sint Eustatius and SabaBosnia and HerzegovinaBotswanaBouvet IslandBrazilBritish Indian Ocean TerritoryBrunei DarussalamBulgariaBurkina FasoBurundiCambodiaCameroonCanadaCape VerdeCayman IslandsCentral African RepublicChadChileChinaChristmas IslandCocos (Keeling) IslandsColombiaComorosCongoCongo, The Democratic Republic of theCook IslandsCosta RicaCote D’IvoireCroatiaCubaCuraçaoCyprusCzech RepublicDenmarkDjiboutiDominicaDominican RepublicEcuadorEgyptEl SalvadorEquatorial GuineaEritreaEstoniaEthiopiaFalkland Islands (Malvinas)Faroe IslandsFijiFinlandFranceFrench GuianaFrench PolynesiaFrench Southern TerritoriesGabonGambiaGeorgiaGermanyGhanaGibraltarGreeceGreenlandGrenadaGuadeloupeGuatemalaGuernseyGuineaGuinea-BissauGuyanaHaitiHeard Island and Mcdonald IslandsHoly See (Vatican City State)HondurasHong KongHungaryIcelandIndiaIndonesiaIran, Islamic Republic ofIraqIrelandIsle of ManIsraelItalyJamaicaJapanJerseyJordanKazakhstanKenyaKiribatiKorea, Democratic People’s Republic ofKorea, Republic ofKuwaitKyrgyzstanLao People’s Democratic RepublicLatviaLebanonLesothoLiberiaLibyan Arab JamahiriyaLiechtensteinLithuaniaLuxembourgMacaoMacedonia, The Former Yugoslav Republic ofMadagascarMalawiMalaysiaMaldivesMaliMaltaMartiniqueMauritaniaMauritiusMayotteMexicoMoldova, Republic ofMonacoMongoliaMontenegroMontserratMoroccoMozambiqueMyanmarNamibiaNauruNepalNetherlandsNew CaledoniaNew ZealandNicaraguaNigerNigeriaNiueNorfolk IslandNorwayOmanPakistanPalestinianPanamaPapua New GuineaParaguayPeruPhilippinesPitcairnPolandPortugalQatarReunionRomaniaRussian FederationRWANDASaint Barthélemy Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da CunhaSaint Kitts and NevisSaint LuciaSaint Martin (French part)Saint Pierre and MiquelonSaint Vincent and the GrenadinesSamoaSan MarinoSao Tome and PrincipeSaudi ArabiaSenegalSerbiaSeychellesSierra LeoneSingaporeSint Maarten (Dutch part)SlovakiaSloveniaSolomon IslandsSomaliaSouth AfricaSouth Georgia and the South Sandwich IslandsSouth SudanSpainSri LankaSudanSurinameSvalbard and Jan MayenSwazilandSwedenSwitzerlandSyrian Arab RepublicTaiwanTajikistanTanzania, United Republic ofThailandTimor-LesteTogoTokelauTongaTrinidad and TobagoTunisiaTurkeyTurkmenistanTurks and Caicos IslandsTuvaluUgandaUkraineUnited Arab EmiratesUnited KingdomUnited StatesUruguayUzbekistanVanuatuVenezuela, Bolivarian Republic ofVietnamVirgin Islands, BritishWallis and FutunaWestern SaharaYemenZambiaZimbabweI also wish to receive emails from AAAS/Science and Science advertisers, including information on products, services and special offers which may include but are not limited to news, careers information & upcoming events.Required fields are included by an asterisk(*)Thompson said he readily agreed that the next census has to cost a lot less than that. Under questioning from Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI), he even promised “to put in place a [2020] census that is no more expensive than in 2010, except for inflation.”Thompson said that the agency has developed four “promising options” to bend the cost curve. The biggest change, he said, would be “to use the Internet as the primary self-response option.” The Census Bureau also wants to cut down on the number of fieldworkers needed to go door-to-door by tapping into the reams of demographic data already collected by other federal agencies. Using existing geographic tools such as Google Maps should cut down on the cost of preparing the address lists that form the basis of each census, he added, and collecting data electronically should reduce the amount of time spent on field operations.But Thompson also reminded lawmakers that there are plenty of wrinkles to be ironed out before these changes can be incorporated into the next census. “To realize this potential,” he said in written answers to questions from the panel, “there must be funding to support the advance research necessary to take full advantage of these opportunities.” His unspoken message was clear: If Congress continues to cut the bureau’s annual budget as part of the overall push to reduce government spending, we won’t be able to work out the kinks in time for April 2020.While controlling costs is the most pressing issue for the agency, Republicans on the Senate panel also used the hearing to register their unhappiness with what they regard as inappropriate and intrusive questions on the decennial census and its longer and more frequent cousin, the monthly American Community Survey (ACS). The issue has become a rallying point for those concerned about privacy and trust in government, said Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH). “Some of these questions are quite personal,” she told Thompson. “They would get my dander up.” To make her point, she cited a question on the ACS about whether persons with physical or mental disabilities have trouble dressing or bathing themselves.Thompson’s response was diplomatic but firm. “Senator, I certainly do not want to unduly burden the American public,” he said. “And my entire professional career has been devoted to protecting the privacy of survey recipients. … But I also want to collect the important information that this survey is designed to generate.”Johnson also asked Thompson about the possible fines, which he said range from $100 to $5000, facing survey recipients if they do not fill out the questionnaire. Thompson acknowledged that the law exists but said it was a matter for the Justice Department, not the Census Bureau. “I don’t think fining people is the right way to encourage their response,” he said. “We are a data collection agency, not an enforcement agency,” he added, saying that he didn’t know how the fines were assessed.After the hearing, Carper told ScienceInsider that he agreed with Thompson that fines are not a useful tool to encourage participation and that public education is the way to go. “We need to do a better job of explaining to people why we have this survey, how it helps local and state government and the business community,” Carper said. “And that’s not just the job of the federal government.”Asked how quickly he expected Thompson’s nomination to be taken up by the full Senate, Carper said that he was “encouraged” by the presence of Coburn, Johnson, and Ayotte at the hearing and by what he characterized as their “positive” comments. He said that he couldn’t promise a final vote before the Senate recesses in August but added, “I’ve not heard of anything today that would cause us to slow down.” NORC at the University of Chicago John Thompsonlast_img

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