The Executive Officer’s Column
Remaining Vigilant for an Essential Survey
The fiscal consequences of the sluggish economy, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, tax cuts, environmental and health crises, and ever-escalating demands on the public treasury are clashing with unprecedented opportunities to invest the public’s money to advance science, generally, as well as social science research, specifically. These last few months, the annual congressional budget appropriations ritual has progressed uncertainly here in the Capitol. Having missed its October 1 end-of-fiscal-year deadline for passing appropriations bills, the U.S. Congress is faced now with having to negotiate final allocations for 10 of the 13 FY 2005 federal budget bills. (As of this writing, the government has been operating on a congressional Continuing Resolution that provides funding for federal agencies at 2004 levels.)
However, just before Congress recessed on October 9, appropriations committee leadership began negotiating the Census Bureau’s budget for the very important American Community Survey (ACS), with potentially catastrophic consequences. The House allocated $146 million for the nationwide launch of the ACS in 2005, $19 million below the Census Bureau’s budget request of $165 million. This very tight budget is sufficient to launch the full survey’s first year (though without the very important “group quarters” data component that includes many populations such as migrant workers and the homeless); but the Senate appropriations committee allocated considerably less ($65 million). This is not enough to advance the ACS—beyond test sites and the limited national, preliminary “Supplementary Survey”—to full national coverage. This summer, the Census had already temporarily delayed the ramp-up to full implementation of the ACS, scheduled to begin in July 2004, because of early uncertainties in the FY 2005 appropriations process. But the Census was still planning to conduct the fully expanded ACS for housing units in 2005 (see Footnotes: September/October 2004, p. 3; January 2004, p. 2; and February 2003, p. 3.).
Census Bureau Director Louis Kincannon informed Congress in October that if the House funding level (or at least $142 million) was not allocated, the Bureau would abandon the ACS and begin developing the 2010 Census long form. The ACS was developed to replace the traditional, but much less useful, decennial long form in 2010. For the Census Bureau, full national coverage in 2005 is essential to prepare for final tests of the ACS in 2006, so it is ready for the 2010 Census. According to Kincannon, however, the Census cannot be caught without a plan for the long form if Congress does not commit full ACS funding in 2005.
It is Congress’ constitutional duty to decide on what to fund and at what level in the federal budget. In such fiscally challenging times, of course, Congress deals with many funding goals including unremitting pressure to provide funds for obvious crises, lavish funds on congressional districts, and oil the really loud “squeaky wheels.”
At the same time, it is critically important and appropriate for us to continue unrelenting educational efforts that “squeak” very loudly to ensure important science issues remain before Congress. These issues cannot be mistakenly perceived to have declined in national priority or importance because conditions do not favor public expenditures on things that do not appear as crises. Congress returns on November 16. The vital importance of the ACS to research and to the needs of the nation’s communities and neighborhoods must be made clear as a national priority. The demographics of our communities can and do change in short order, and the ACS is designed to help governments, commercial interests, communities, and scientists understand the impacts and to have strategically useful and timely data to ensure sound decision making and scientific knowledge. Our nation is now in a new environment—the “24/7” on-demand world that is guided by new sources of microdata for science, commerce, community needs assessment, and other public needs. The ACS would provide the economic and social microdata that we now need.
In response to this situation, the ASA sent letters to the top leadership (majority and minority) of the appropriations committees in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate, urging them to fully recognize how vital the ACS is to social scientists and communities. (See details at www.asanet.org/public/ACS_support.html.) We are also working with other Washington-based advocacy organizations (e.g., the Consortium of Social Science Associations, Population Association of America, Association of Population Centers, The Communications Consortium Media Center) to pressure the congressional conferees to recognize the importance of the ACS moving forward to full national implementation and replacing the Census long form. This requires Congress to adequately fund the ACS in FY 2005.
Sally T. Hillsman, Executive Officer