Chuck, I was at the hearing and thought the tenor was more neutral and
fact finding than any sort of a witch-hunt or antagonistic. Be
forewarned that I am not an expert observer and I, like everyone, have
my own sort of selective-perception mechanisms. In fact, this was my
first ever committee hearing. Below are some notes I put together that
are intended to compliment the written testimony.
Three committee members were present: Miller (Chairman), Maloney
(Ranking) and D. Davis (Dem from Chicago)
Mr. Miller opened the hearing and outlined what he perceived was the
American publics' discontent with the Long Form. He pointed to issues
of privacy, the intrusive nature of government on people's lives and
private businesses. He then laid out 5 questions that the ACS must
answer before Congress could make a commitment to support it.
1) Is the ACS cost efficient? 2) Should the ACS be a mandatory or
voluntary survey? 3) Are rural areas getting quality and timely data?
4) Will it be implemented in an accurate, efficient and consistent
manner? 5) Does the ACS address the privacy concerns of the American
Ms. Maloney's opening statement went into why we need the Long Form and
how important data is for the decision process. She also took some time
to address the importance of several specific Long Form questions.
Mr. Davis spoke to the genuine needs of data, but did remark that some
folks may choose not use any data and that is their right--it is just
one of the freedoms we have. He did add, that it was his opinion that
"the more information we have the better off we are."
Mr. Miller wrapped up the opening statements noting that this hearing
was the beginning of a long process. A process that had lots of issues
to delve into and that was laying the groundwork for the next census.
At several times throughout the day this point was reiterated. The
hearing was structured to have three panels.
Only two of four representatives scheduled presented testimony.
Ms. Emerson (R-MO) pointed out that the current census data was too old
by the time it gets released and not capable of picking up the rapid
changes that have been occurring in rural America. As a result, she
alleged that rural America is not properly accounted for in the
distribution of public benefits. She stated that the rural caucus would
be pleased to work with this committee on having accurate and timely
data that is so critical to rural America. Under questioning Mr. Miller
wondered if the surveys Agriculture does would suffice.
Mr. Collins (R-GA) promoted his Bill, HR4138, which is targeted at
eliminating the penalty for not completing the census form. Both Ms.
Maloney and Mr. Davis expressed the sentiment that this was the only
thing that was mandatory for the U.S. population (except for jury duty)
and did not show the same concern as Mr. Collins. The issue came up
again during the discussion with Panel Two.
Mr. Spotila from OMB spoke to the legal importance of the Long Form. He
noted that OMB has formed an interagency committee of 40 federal
agencies including all the federal statistical agencies to review the
questionnaire content and its use. That committee would be working with
Congress and reporting back. (I thought I heard 18 months but it is not
in the written testimony).
Mr. Prewitt (Census Bureau) then spoke to the importance of the ACS, its
need, and workability. In his review of the need for the data, he noted
that there have been 35 bills introduced into the 106th Congress that
would require Long Form data. He then spoke to some of the mechanical
details of the ACS stressing that from an operational and planning
standpoint it is "critical" to maintain the schedule that the Census
During the questioning, Mr. Miller expressed concerns about when the
Congress would be brought into the OMB review committee process. Mr.
Spotila noted that this has to be a cooperative--collegial process.
During the ensuing questioning, which Mr. Miller likened to "a working
session", the following issues by the committee surfaced.
A) Sample size seemed to be the number one concern. It was clear that
the committee would like to have some discussion on sample size verses
the level of geography needed. At one point a separate hearing on just
this issue was suggested. The trade-off between sample size and
geographical aggregation will have to be addressed.
B) Mandatory participation versus voluntary participation is a
concern. The speculation is that voluntary participation would cost
more but how much and how it would relate under an ACS framework needs
to be understood.
C) The approval process for ACS questions should be articulated and
work needs to be done on what data is needed and why. It was clear that
the Committee wants to understand why each question is asked.
Obviously, how this was explained coming into the 2000 Census did not
D) How would ACS data be used? Would it be used in the same way as the
current long form data? There seemed to be some trepidation on the
committee with the concept of a floating average.
E) The costs of the ACS versus the Long Form. No one directly answered
the cost questions.
F) The ability for the Census with the ACS to be at a competitive
advantage in the market place when it comes to "underbid" private sector
firms on government work. (Although the Census does not actually bid on
government work they do have several contracts and working agreements.)
Overall, the reoccurring issue that kept coming up was "at what level of
geography is the data needed?" (This is a point we transportation folks
need to drive home)
Another point that came up but I heard two different numbers thrown out
dealt with geographical specificity. I was hearing Census Tracts and
numbers like 15,000 population and then later someone said 5,000. This
to me was very discerning since I was not hearing Block groups or
anything approaching what we all know as a TAZ.
The third panel was invited "outside" individuals. There testimony can
be found online at.
For a different take on the same hearing the Washington Post ran an
article in Monday's July 24, 2000 paper.
"Chuck Purvis (MTC)" wrote:
Dear CTPP News Recipients:
The US House of Representatives, Committee on Government Reform,
Subcommittee on the Census, held a hearing this past Thursday, July
20th, on the American Community Survey.
Written testimony presented at this meeting is included on
Congressman Dan Miller's web site, at:
I would encourage census data users to review Congressman Miller's
opening remarks, the statemement by the Census Bureau director,
Kenneth Prewitt, and statements by: John Spotila (OMB), David Crowe,
(National Association of Home Builders), and Chuck Fluharty ((Rural
Policy Research Institute), and Kulka and Lessler (Research Triangle
Institute.) Obviously this is the written testimony, and I can't
"read between the lines" so I'm uncertain what was the tenor of the
congressional subcommittee in terms of support or antagonism towards
Dr. Prewitt mentioned that the 1999 ACS data for 21 of the 31 areas
would be released the week of July 24, 2000. I've check the Bureau's
ACS web site, and haven't seen the '99 data yet. To me, it's kind of
like waiting for the Nouveau Beaujolais....
Chuck Purvis, MTC