Commerce chief pushes Congress for census funding

Commerce Department Secretary Wilbur Ross pushed appropriators to fund the updated lifecycle cost for the census, but offered little about the citizenship question and the search for a permanent director.

Census 2020 By Maria Dryfhout Stock photo ID: 790714156
 

At a March 20 House hearing, Commerce Department Secretary Wilbur Ross pushed appropriators to fund the updated lifecycle cost of $15.6 billion for the 2020 census, and faced questions from lawmakers about a proposed citizenship question and the search for a permanent director.

The White House's fiscal year 2019 budget requests an increase of about $500 million over enacted fiscal year 2017 levels for Commerce overall, buoyed by a $3.2 billion proposal for Census's decennial programs — more than $2 billion over the enacted fiscal year 2017 figure.

That boosted funding will go to hiring census-takers, the partnership and communications programs, any corrections needed based on the results of the 2018 test and final preparations for 2020. The fiscal year 2018 request of $987 million for decennial programs is yet to be approved by Congress.

Ross was also asked about a Trump campaign fundraising email advocating for the inclusion of a citizenship question on the 2020 census questionnaire.

"We are responding solely to the Department of Justice's request, not to any campaign request, not to any other political party request," he said. "It's a very big and very controversial request, and we are taking it very seriously."

Ross said a decision on the question has not yet been made, but will be reached before the March 31 deadline for Census to submit the final 2020 questions to Congress. The agency is "grappling with" the questions possible impact on response rates and its associated costs.

The bureau also remains without a permanent director, as it has since June 2017.

Asked by subcommittee chair John Culberson (R-Texas) when an appointment for a director may be expected, Ross testified he had "total confidence" in the acting officials currently serving in the director and deputy director roles.

"While they're not 100 percent accustomed to this kind of management process," Ross said that agency leaders, career officials and consultants meet regularly with Census's contractors and "are continually scrubbing things."

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