The ACS: “It’s just a make-work project”

Here is additional coverage about the currently defunded ACS. Some of these include quotes from House members (as in the title).

As in the previous post, these are posted with the most recent at the top.

Research Cuts Are Akin to Eating Seed Corn
Norman Ornstein | Roll Call
May 15, 2012
The title says it all. The excerpts I’ve clipped are mostly about the cuts to the Census Bureau. However, he also discusses the excising of political science dollars from NSF.

[Selected Excerpts]
[Paragraph 6] If ever we need evidence of ideology run rampant, these actions become exhibit A. Learning about the population and about the economy are fundamental for a society to understand where it has been and where it is going, for industries to plan their future investments and for the country to be prepared for wars and other exigencies. The first census taken after the Constitution was enacted included questions designed to pinpoint the number of able-bodied males older than 16 to be able to assess preparedness for conflicts and for the workforce.

[Paragraph 9] The questions asked by the ACS are vetted by Congress, and strict privacy controls are in place. The economic pluses of the survey are huge and obvious; it will constrain our economy significantly if we do away with it, and it will also make the task of law enforcement and traffic control, among other things, much more difficult.

[Paragraph 10, partial] The Economic Census director noted that “the 2012 Economic Census provides comprehensive information on the health of over 25 million businesses and 1,100 industries. It provides detailed industry and geographic source data for generating quarterly GDP estimates. The economic census is also the benchmark for measures of productivity, producer prices, and many of the nation’s principal economic indicators.

[Paragraph 11] In their zeal to cut domestic discretionary spending to save every dollar of defense appropriations and to avoid a dime in tax increases on the highest earners (while imposing a tax increase, via a cut in the child tax credit, on others), House Republicans have begun a major effort to eliminate the nation’s seed corn, the fundamentals for building and growing the economy. The “No-Nothings” are on the rise.

[Paragraph 13]. . . the key question here is an intrusive government, via a set of politicians, throwing grenades into a carefully designed and balanced peer-review process for scientists, physical and social, to determine what research benefits society enough to use some taxpayer funds.

[Paragraph 14] This truly is a slippery slope — political science one day, climate research the next, biological research after that and so on, depending on the ideology and demagogic capacity of the majorities in Congress at any given time.

The American Community Survey is a count worth keeping
Editorial | The Washington Post
May 15, 2012

[Selected excerpts]
[Paragraph 1] ACCORDING TO Rep. Daniel Webster (R-Fla.), it is “intrusive,” “an inappropriate use of taxpayer dollars,” “unconstitutional,” and “the very picture of what’s wrong in D.C.”

[Paragraph 2] What manner of predatory government prompted Mr. Webster — supported by nearly all House Republicans — to issue such categorical condemnation? That intolerable federal boondoggle known as . . . the American Community Survey (ACS).

[Paragraph 4, partial] As James Madison argued around the time of the first census, collecting information on the socio-economic status of the population is one of those basic things that government is uniquely suited to do, and it benefits everyone.

[Paragraph 6, partial] The Constitution explicitly allows Congress to collect demographic data on the American public “in such a manner as they shall by law direct.” As for the expense, eliminating the ACS is like declining to buy stethoscopes in order to reduce health-care expenses

Survey for health, poverty benefits threatened in Congress
Elizabeth Landau | CNN
May 15, 2012

[Selected excerpts]
[Paragraph 7] “If you’re opposed to the survey, you’re opposed to understanding what’s going on in America,” said MIT economist Jonathan Gruber, director of the Program on Health Care Research at the National Bureau of Economic Research.

[Paragraph 16] As examples of the intrusiveness of the survey, Webster cited questions that ask if respondents have difficulty dressing, concentrating and making decisions, how long it takes them to get home from work, and what their emotional condition is. He also said that failure to answer the survey can result in a $5,000 fine.

[Paragraph 17] But Martin Gaynor, professor of economics and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University, called concerns about privacy “very foolish.” “People volunteer all kinds of far more intimate, sensitive information online without a thought about who is watching,” he said.

[Paragraph 18] And there’s a harsher penalty for Census Bureau employees who identify individuals filling out the surveys: five years in prison or $250,000 in fines, or both, according to the Census website. All employees take an oath of nondisclosure, and the information is kept private.

Starving the Census in the Gouse GOP Budget: Penny wise, and dumb
May 15, 2012

[Selected excerpts]
[Paragraph 2] Now, as details of Ryan’s plan emerge, it’s becoming clearer that its spending cuts are equally illusory, relying on alleged cost-saving measures that would likely cost more in the long term than they help right now. Case in point: Ryan’s plan to evis­cerate the Census Bureau and elim­inate its American Community Survey (ACS), an annual survey that provides a rapid-response supplement to the decennial Census.

[Paragraph 3] As Busi­nessweek notes, cuts to Census budgets in the past decade prevented Congress and the Obama admin­is­tration from being able to quickly diagnose the scope of the financial sector’s collapse in 2007. One expert observed, “The government saved $8 million, but how many tril­lions were lost as a result of not being able to see the crisis coming?”

[Paragraph 4] Iron­i­cally, as the New York Times explains, the ACS itself was actually created as a sensible cost-cutting strategy, designed to provide more timely data than the decennial Census could. Even the US Chamber of Commerce has vocally opposed further cuts to Census funding because it helps busi­nesses large and small to inform their planning. Which is why top conser­v­ative policy think tanks support the ACS, too.

[Paragraph 5] An adequately funded Census Bureau is the best vehicle we have for finding a path to sustained economic growth for all of us; there is wide­spread agreement that without its data, we will be flying blind.

Deep-sixing extension of census is misguided
Editorial | Spokesman-Review
May 15, 2012

[Selected excerpts]
[Paragraph 1] In the seemingly bottomless well of issues to divide Americans, here’s another: The U.S. House of Representatives voted last Wednesday to slash the Census Bureau budget and end the valuable American Community Survey.

[Paragraph 2] It was a mere seven years ago that bipartisan congressional forces implemented this ongoing statistical snapshot so that business and government could base decisions on real-world demographic data. Some $400 billion in federal spending is predicated on these surveys, which go out to 250,000 households per month. Businesses use the information to help make decisions on what to produce, where to build and how many people to hire.

[Paragraph 3] But fear-mongering about this alleged invasion of privacy has surpassed common sense and sparked an unfortunate “too-much-information” backlash.

[Paragraph 4] This is foolhardy and misguided. While the survey does ask respondents questions about how they live, their identities are kept a secret. In fact, divulging that data is a serious crime that carries a fine of up to $250,000 or a five-year prison sentence – or both. The information is valuable in the aggregate, not on an individual level.

[Paragraph 6]What small-government opponents of the survey don’t seem to understand is that their actions will cause bureaucracies to grow more inefficient

Census Bureau questionnaires criticized by Rep. Duncan as intrusive
Michael Collins | Knoxville News Sentinel
May 14, 2012

[Selected excerpts]
[Paragraph 13]The monthly survey duplicates data that can be gleaned from other sources, Duncan said, and “is just another way for the Census Bureau to create work for bureaucrats.”

[Paragraph 14] “It’s just a make-work project for the Census Bureau,” he said.

Dan Webster, census taker?
Bill Thompson |
May 14, 2012
This is a relatively long article, for a local paper. It provides an excellent summary of the issues for its readers.

Operating in the Dark
Editorial | New York Times
May 13, 2012

[Selected excerpts]
[Paragraph 1] The Web site of Representative Daniel Webster, Republican of Florida, instructs visitors to click on a link for “Census data for the 8th district” to learn about the area’s economy, businesses, income, employment, homeownership and other important features. And yet, on Wednesday, Mr. Webster declared that the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey — the source for much of that data — is an unconstitutional breach of privacy.

[Paragraph 3, partial] This is know-nothingness at a new level.

[Paragraph 5] The survey cuts would reduce understanding about what is happening in the economy and the effectiveness of business and government policy. Lack of information can lead to paralysis and costly mistakes. When Republicans proposed similar cuts last year, even the deficit hawks at the United States Chamber of Commerce opposed them.

[Paragraph 6] The White House is opposed to the cuts and the Senate will soon have a chance to reject them when it takes up the appropriation bill. It should.

Does government knowledge mean government intrusion?
Suzy Khimm | Wonklog at The Washington Post
May 13, 2012

[Selected excerpts]
[Paragraph 1] Nothing says government overreach like asking about the toilets in your house.

[Paragraph 6] But the GOP’s Big Brother argument could gain traction at a time when Americans are growing increasingly concerned about how their personal information is being collected. But unlike Google or the Internet’s data-scrapers, the Census Bureau ensures that the information it makes public hides the identity of the respondents. And though the survey is mandatory, it’s something that Americans themselves fill out — not information that’s being collected unbeknownst to them.

[Paragraph 7] But perhaps it isn’t a coincidence that the anti-ACS push happened the same week that House Republicans also voted to eliminate funding for political science research through the National Science Foundation, as Ezra Klein explained earlier. Behind both GOP initiatives is the belief that it isn’t the business of government to gather certain kinds of knowledge or information — whether it’s about the country’s individual citizens or the nature of its political systems. But in certain cases, the price of government not knowing is that many others will be left in the dark as well.

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