Experts fear Trump budget shortchanges Census

Census 2020 By Maria Dryfhout Stock photo ID: 790714156 

As the Census Bureau looks down the home stretch toward the 2020 population count, experts say the proposed $3.8 billion in the FY 2019 budget isn't enough.

While that figure constitutes a $2.3 billion boost over the enacted fiscal year 2017 level funding, the bureau faces daunting challenges to stand up the infrastructure and workforce to execute on the decennial census.

In October 2017, Commerce Department Secretary Wilbur Ross presented Congress with a request for additional funding that included almost $3.5 billion -- a base of more than $3.1 billion, plus a contingency of $314 million -- to fund the bureau's decennial programs in fiscal year 2019.

About $3.2 billion of the 2019 request is carved out for decennial programs. By comparison, in fiscal year 2009, the bureau received almost $4.2 billion in funding -- a $2.7 billion bump over fiscal year 2008 levels. The 2010 Census cost about $12.3 billion, and Ross' lifecycle request for the 2020 count is about $15.6 billion.

Terri Ann Lowenthal, who has provided census oversight as a congressional aide, presidential transition team member and private consultant on decennials dating back to the 1990 count, said the White House's request shortchanges the 2020 census.

"I think the census bureau will need several hundred million more dollars to support a more robust outreach and promotion effort and expanded field infrastructure," Lowenthal said.

Phil Sparks, co-director of the watchdog group the Census Project, also urged Congress to consider the request "as an opening ante."

"For some reason, this administration continues to just barely keep the minimum funding needed for a full, fair and accurate count," he said. "Frankly, 2019 is the critical year for funding census operations to ensure a quality count."

Those 2019 operations represent the last ramp-up before the 2020 main event begins, the start of peak operations of outreach and communications programs, plus the last chance to correct any findings in the critical 2018 dress rehearsal.

The bureau still faces plenty of IT uncertainty, ranging from systems readiness to the awarding of its final major IT contract -- for IT infrastructure for the 2020 field sites -- in May or June.

Of course, Congress will have its say over the Census' funding levels.

Currently, the bureau is still operating under an anomaly that allows it to spend at an accelerated rate under the current continuing resolution funding the government.

About the Author

Chase Gunter is a staff writer covering civilian agencies, workforce issues, health IT, open data and innovation.

Prior to joining FCW, Gunter reported for the C-Ville Weekly in Charlottesville, Va., and served as a college sports beat writer for the South Boston (Va.) News and Record. He started at FCW as an editorial fellow before joining the team full-time as a reporter.

Gunter is a graduate of the University of Virginia, where his emphases were English, history and media studies.

Click here for previous articles by Gunter, or connect with him on Twitter: @WChaseGunter


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