IG to audit Census' budget reductions

As the Census Bureau prepares for the next nationwide Census in 2020, its cost-cutting efforts will be under close watch.

census enumerator

A Census enumerator talks to an interviewee during the 2000 Census. (Census Bureau photo)

The Commerce Department’s inspectors general are keeping a watchful eye on the Census Bureau’s budget-reduction plans for the 2020 Census Research Program.

On July 15, Commerce’s assistant IG for economic and statistical program assessment announced an audit on the Census Bureau’s approach to implementing budget reductions for fiscal years 2013 and 2014 regarding the upcoming 2020 Census, in part to ensure the next national Census comes in cheaper per household than the $13 billion 2010 Census did.

The audit piggybacks on a series of critiques made by the Government Accountability Office following the 2010 Census. That Census was the most expensive in U.S. history at $43 per person, or roughly 40 times more expensive per person than China’s 2010 population tally and nearly 100 times more expensive than India’s.

GAO found the Census Bureau failed to make full use of modern technology like mobile devices during its survey, and suggested its approach to tallying the population was not changing with the times, underutilizing sampling and statistical modeling. Statistical sampling, however, has long been opposed by many in Congress. Republican lawmakers in particular insist that failing to literally count each American violates the Constitution's call for "actual enumeration."

The Supreme Court ruled against Clinton administration plans to use sampling in the 2000 Census. And in 2009, former Census Director Robert Groves assured Congress during his confirmation hearing that the bureau would not use sampling to adjust the 2010 Census.

The audit specifically seeks to examine:

• Census' process for implementing the budget reductions to the 2020 research program, including Research & Testing (R&T) and the Geographic Support System Initiative (GSS).

• The effect of the reductions on R&T and GSS, as well as on the bureau's ability to fulfill its goal of a 2020 Census that costs less per household than the 2010 Census.

• The roles of the U.S. Department of Commerce and the Economic and Statistics Administration in 2020 Census budget oversight.

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