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COSSA and 25 Science Organizations Call for Removal of Census Citizenship Question

In a joint comment to the Department of Commerce, COSSA and 25 other science and research organizations urged the Department to remove the citizenship question from the 2020 Census. The letter, which was submitted in response to a federal request for input on data collection activities related to the 2020 Census, focuses on the science and research implications of the citizenship question, arguing that “the inclusion of a question on citizenship in the 2020 Census will increase the burden on respondents, add unnecessary costs to the operation, and negatively impact the accuracy and integrity of one of the most valuable data resources the government produces.” COSSA previously released a statement opposing the question after it was announced. While formal approval of 2020 Census questionnaire by the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is all but certain, several law suits to remove the question are currently pending.

In response to the same request for comments, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) Council on National Statistics (CNSTAT) Task Force on the 2020 Census submitted a letter concluding that “the decision to add a question on citizenship status to the 2020 census is inconsistent with the ‘proper performance of the functions’ of the Census Bureau.” The CNSTAT letter is available on the National Academies’ website.

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Posted in Issue 16 (August 7), Update, Volume 37 (2018)

Census Bureau Seeks Input on 2020 Data Products

In order to inform its plans for 2020 Census data products, the Census Bureau is soliciting feedback on how data products from prior decennial censuses (including summary and detailed tables, national and state demographic profiles, and topical briefs) have been used. According to the Federal Register notice, privacy concerns may lead the Bureau to reduce the amount of detailed data released to the public, so input on how to prioritize products for the 2020 Census is being sought. More information, including specific questions of interest to the Bureau and a spreadsheet containing a complete list of data products and tables, is available in the Federal Register. Comments must be submitted by September 17, 2018.

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Posted in Issue 16 (August 7), Update, Volume 37 (2018)

Steven Dillingham Nominated to Lead Census Bureau

Dr. Steven Dillingham was nominated on July 18 by President Trump to serve as the Director of the Census Bureau within the Department of Commerce. Dillingham currently directs the Office of Strategic Information, Research, and Planning for the Peace Corps and previously led the Bureau of Justice Statistics and the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. He holds a Ph.D. in political science, as well as a law degree, an MBA, and a master’s degree in public administration. Given his record of leadership within the federal statistical system, Dillingham’s nomination is a welcome departure from the type of controversial, politically-motivated candidates the Administration was previously reported to have considered.

The job of the director of the Census Bureau has been empty for more than a year and, if confirmed by the Senate, Dillingham will direct the Bureau through a difficult time, as the 2020 Census quickly approaches and the Bureau is under heightened scrutiny for the controversial decision to add a question on citizenship to the 2020 questionnaire. Upon his confirmation, Dillingham would serve out the remainder of the current five-year term, ending in December 31, 2021.

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Posted in Issue 15 (July 24), Update, Volume 37 (2018)

Senate Appropriations Committee Approves FY 2019 Commerce, Justice, Science Bill

On June 14, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved the fiscal year (FY) 2019 Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies (CJS) Appropriations Bill; the bill was marked up in subcommittee on June 12. The CJS bill serves as the vehicle for annual appropriations for the National Science Foundation (NSF), Census Bureau, National Institute of Justice (NIJ), Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), and many other federal departments and agencies. The House Appropriations Committee passed its bill on May 17. Read COSSA’s full analysis of the House bill here.

At a Glance…

  • The Senate CJS bill includes $8.1 billion for NSF in FY 2019, which is 3.9 percent above the FY 2018 enacted level and 8 percent above the President’s request, but about 1 percent below the House’s proposal.
  • The Senate bill would provide NIJ with $42 million and BJS with $48 million, flat with the FY 2018 enacted level and 17 percent above the President’s request for both agencies.
  • The Senate bill would provide the Census Bureau with a total of $3.82 billion for FY 2019, which is slightly higher than the Administration’s request (+$21 million) but nearly $1 billion below the House’s proposal.

The next step for the bill is consideration by the full Senate. It remains to be seen whether/how Senate leadership will proceed with the individual appropriations bills this year, but with most of the Senate’s August recess cancelled, more time is available for considering the spending bills. However, the entire House is up for reelection and other priorities remain to be considered, so it is still likely that FY 2019 will begin under a continuing resolution (CR) on October 1, 2018.

Read on for COSSA’s analysis of the Senate Appropriations Committee’s proposals for the National Science Foundation, National Institute of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, and the Census Bureau.

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Posted in Issue 13 (June 26), Update, Volume 37 (2018)

Census Issues Request for Comment on Decennial Data Collection

In compliance with the Paperwork Reduction Act, the Census Bureau issued a request for comments on the 2020 Census on June 8. The request provides an opportunity for feedback on the Bureau’s proposed information collection activities associated with the 2020 Census, including the addition of a citizenship question (which COSSA opposes). Comments must be submitted by August 7, 2018. More information is available in the Federal Register notice.

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Posted in Issue 12 (June 12), Update, Volume 37 (2018)

House Panel Passes FY 2019 Funding for NSF, Census, NIJ

On May 17, the House Appropriations Committee approved the fiscal year (FY) 2019 Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies (CJS) Appropriations Bill; the bill was marked up in subcommittee on May 9. The CJS bill serves as the vehicle for annual appropriations for the National Science Foundation (NSF), Census Bureau, National Institute of Justice (NIJ), Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), and many other federal departments and agencies. The Senate has not yet released the details of its CJS bill.

At a Glance…

  • The House CJS bill includes $8.2 billion for NSF in FY 2019, which is 5.2 percent above the FY 2018 enacted level and 9.4 percent above the President’s request.
  • The House bill would provide NIJ with $44 million and BJS with $50 million, which is 4.8 and 4.2 percent, respectively, above the FY 2018 enacted level and 22 percent above the President’s request.
  • The House bill would provide the Census Bureau with $4.8 billion in discretionary funding for FY 2019. That amount is an increase of $2 billion compared to FY 2018 and $1 billion more than the amount requested by the Administration.
  • The House bill includes $99 million for the Economics and Statistics Administration, which houses BEA, flat with FY 2018 and $2 million below the President’s request.

The next step for the bill is consideration by the full House. However, with the August recess quickly approaching, and this being an election year, floor time is extremely limited. It remains to be seen whether/how House leadership will proceed with the individual appropriations bills this year. It is all but certain that FY 2019 will being on October 1, 2018 under a continuing resolution (CR).

Read on for COSSA’s analysis of the House Appropriations Committee’s proposals for the National Science Foundation, National Institute of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, and the Census Bureau.

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Posted in Issue 11 (May 29), Update, Volume 37 (2018)

Congress Questions Commerce, Census on Citizenship Question

Members of Congress questioned Commerce Department and Census Bureau leadership last week over the decision to include a question on citizenship in the 2020 Census. COSSA objects to this decision and has issued a statement and action alert on this issue.

On May 8, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform held a progress report hearing on the 2020 Census. Witnesses included Earl Comstock, Director of the Office of Policy and Strategic Planning at the Commerce Department (testimony); Ron Jarmin, Acting Director of the Census Bureau (testimony); David A. Powner and Robert Goldenkoff of the Government Accountability Office (GAO) (testimony); and Justin Levitt, Associate Dean for Research at Loyola Law School, who previously served as Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights in the Justice Department during the Obama Administration (testimony). Invited but not present at the hearing was the current Acting Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, John Gore, who is reported to have spearheaded the request that the citizenship question be added to the Census. Committee Chair Trey Gowdy (R-SC) said that he would issue a subpoena to compel Gore to appear before the Committee. A hearing featuring Gore was subsequently scheduled for Friday, May 18, 2018. Democrats on the Committee criticized the decision to add the citizenship question, questioning the necessity of the Justice Department’s request, and Ross’s conclusion that the question is “well-tested” because it has appeared on the American Community Survey. Committee Republicans generally defended the decision and were dismissive of concerns that adding the question without having tested it in a Census environment would add unnecessary risks to the accuracy and integrity of census data.

Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross made his first appearance before Congress since announcing his decision to add the question to the decennial during a May 10 hearing on the Commerce Department budget in front of the Senate Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee. Ross defended his decision in the face of sharp questioning from subcommittee Democrats, including Ranking Member Jeanne Shaheen (D-VT), Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI), Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI), and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT).

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Posted in Issue 10 (May 15), Update, Volume 37 (2018)

2020 Census to Ask About Citizenship; COSSA Releases Statement and Action Alert

On March 26, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross directed the Census Bureau to include a question about respondents’ citizenship in the 2020 Decennial Census. The decision was made in response to a request by the Department of Justice to add the question in order to support its enforcement of the Voting Rights Act, although it is unclear why current data is inadequate. Citizenship was last asked as part of the decennial census in 1950; since then it has been included on the census “long form,” which later became the American Community Survey (these differ from the decennial census in that they are sent to a sample of the U.S. population, not every household). In a memo outlining his decision, Ross stipulated that the question be asked last on the Census form. While the decision was reportedly made over the objections of the experts at the Census Bureau, the citizenship question was on the list of planned questions submitted to Congress on March 29.

The decision has raised concerns for those in the scientific community because the question was not part of the extensive research and testing the Census Bureau routinely conducts in the years leading up to a decennial census. The Bureau carefully evaluates all proposed changes to design and wording of the census to ensure that they do not affect the quality of the responses received. Asking about citizenship could alienate respondents in the immigrant community and potentially deter them from responding to the Census at all or answering inaccurately, resulting in an undercount of these populations and affecting the accuracy and integrity of the Census data. The Bureau is currently conducting the last major test of the 2020 Census operation, the 2018 End-to-End Test in Providence, RI, which is being administered without a citizenship question. Because the Bureau will not have been able to evaluate the impact of the question, we will not know how the question will affect responses until the 2020 Census is in the field. Given that the Census Bureau has a Constitutional obligation to count every member of the U.S. population, an increase in non-response would greatly increase the costs of the count, as more enumerators would need be sent to collect responses in person, at far greater expense than planned mail or internet outreach.

The decennial census is an irreplaceable source of data for researchers across the social sciences who use it to generate valuable findings about the U.S. population that can be used to inform evidence-based policies. In addition, information from the decennial census undergirds numerous other surveys and data sets at the Census Bureau and beyond, so a problem at the source would have far-reaching implications across the statistical system. COSSA strongly opposes the Department of Commerce’s decision and released a statement to that effect on March 27. In addition, COSSA issued an action alert to enable COSSA members to easily write to their Members of Congress and ask them to support legislation to remove the question. In addition, other COSSA members, including the American Statistical Association, Population Association of America, and the Social Science Research Council have released statements criticizing the decision.

At this stage, the only avenues to removing the question are legislation or a court ruling. Two bills (H.R. 5359 and S. 2580) have been introduced by Democrats in Congress that would bar the Census from asking about citizenship, but neither has bipartisan support, making passage unlikely. In addition, more than one law suit has been filed against the Administration, arguing that asking about citizenship is an attempt to depress the count of minority populations.

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Posted in Issue 7 (April 3), Update, Volume 37 (2018)

Administration Considering Controversial Pick for Census Deputy Director

The Trump Administration is reportedly considering naming Thomas Brunell, a political science professor at the University of Texas, Dallas, as the next Deputy Director of the Census Bureau. The pick has raised concerns for Census stakeholder groups both because Brunell has no prior government experience and would be the top operations official overseeing the decennial census, the government’s biggest non-wartime operation, and because his selection would appear to politicize what has historically been a non-political position. Brunell has testified on behalf of Republican redistricting efforts and is the author of a 2008 book called Redistricting and Representation: Why Competitive Elections Are Bad for America. Brunell was originally considered for the Census Director position (still vacant and without a nominee after the departure of John Thompson in June), but did not successfully complete the vetting process.

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Posted in Issue 23 (November 28), Update, Volume 36 (2017)

House Passes Omnibus Spending Bill Along with Problematic NSF Amendment

After two weeks of debate and votes on hundreds of amendments, the House of Representatives has passed an omnibus spending bill for Fiscal Year (FY) 2018, consisting of all twelve spending bills. The omnibus includes the same funding levels for social science research as the Commerce-Justice-Science and Labor-Health and Human Services-Education bills that were passed by the House Appropriations Committee. While the proposed funding levels were moderately good for social and behavioral science research, the House approved an amendment proposed by Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX), the chair of the Science, Space, and Technology Committee, that could be detrimental to the social sciences. The amendment would require that about $30 million (or 0.5 percent) of the Research and Related Activities account at the National Science Foundation (NSF) be used only to support basic research in the biological and physical sciences. NSF currently prioritizes research investments based on the advice of its own experts and scholars and if this amendment became law, it could result in political influence into the NSF research process.

Two other amendments that targeted the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) and the Census Bureau, proposed by Rep. Francis Rooney (R-FL) and Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-VA) respectively, were not taken up for consideration on the floor and therefore did not pass.

The spending package has little chance of passing the Senate, but President Trump has already signed a short-term budget measure to keep the government open at current funding levels through December 8, giving Congress more time to come up with a deal for the rest of FY 2018. Read COSSA’s full coverage of the FY 2018 spending debate here.

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Posted in Issue 18 (September 19), Update, Volume 36 (2017)

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