The uses for ACS data go far beyond the government. More than a dozen business groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, wrote to lawmakers in April to urge them to keep participation in the survey mandatory. “There simply is no other source of high-quality, detailed socioeconomic information that is comparable across time and geography, allowing us to analyze current and trending markets and community needs and to plan future investments accordingly,” the organizations wrote.
We use the ACS data to make decisions on a daily basis concerning investment in new facilities, the availability of qualified workers and the need for job training programs, the characteristics (such as language preference, disability, veterans status and type of housing) of the communities we serve, and the need for new plants , stores and other places of business. Reliable information about population growth and density leads to the opening of new businesses in the best possible locations to serve the immediate needs of communities, helping create jobs.
Lankford said he understands the need for accurate data, but he’s dubious of the claim that there are no other options for the government. He said he’s asked the administration why it can’t get some of the data it seeks via the ACS from other sources, or at minimum to study the methods that private research firms use to conduct surveys. “Their approach seems to be the most expensive, most intrusive way to go about collecting data,” Lankford said. “If Gallup were to use these methods, they’d have lawsuits all over.”
A major part of the GOP concern with the American Community Survey is that, in its eyes, the ACS takes the government far beyond the rather straightforward directive embedded in Article I of the Constitution—that every 10 years, it should count all of the people for the purposes of determining proportional representation in Congress. The ACS, by contrast, is conducted annually. As Lankford put it: “This is not the every-10-years Census. This is a data update.” Yet Census officials and their allies like to quote James Madison in pointing out that the need for collecting additional information to formulate public policy is just as deeply-entrenched in the nation’s history. “These questions have been around since the beginning of the country,” Sparks said.
The Census Bureau also isn’t helped by its track record. The 2010 Census cost twice as much as the survey in 2000, a total that included $3 billion spent on new hand-held devices that didn’t work. This time around, the government is again promising to use new technologies that won’t require officials to physically walk every street in the country or use pencil-and-paper to count every one of its residents. But it needs money upfront to implement the new procedures, which the administration says will ultimately save $5 billion in 2020. So far, Republicans aren’t giving it to them. The House GOP proposal would eliminate any increase in funds for 2020 planning, and it cuts nearly $500 million in total from the administration’s request, including reductions for the American Community Survey.