The American Community Survey stirs up controversy

July 19, 2012

Every 10 years the Census Bureau conducts a nationwide count of the U.S. population. The last complete count was completed two years ago, but now another annual survey from the Census Bureau is causing controversy.

The American Community Survey has 69 questions.  Every year 3 million people receive the questionnaire, but critics of the ACS say it is intrusive. At a Senate hearing on Wednesday, Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn talked about letters he’s received.

"I’ve recently had five letters to my office from people about the American Community Survey with complains about their constitutional rights not to answer questions of total privacy that is nobody’s business," Coburn said.

Coburn added that he would like to see ACS continue but wants the Census Bureau to find a better way to get the information. Meanwhile the House of Representatives has voted to cut the bureau’s funding by more than a third.

Director Robert Groves says that could cripple the census bureau’s efforts. "As you know, the bill doesn’t permit any funding for the ACS," Groves said. "In addition the cuts will halt development of crucial ways to save money on 2020."

Here in Arizona where the state’s population has grown and its demographics are changing rapidly, having up-to-date data is critical, according to Andrea Whitsett with Arizona State University’s Morrison Institute.

"To have to use data that is a few years old is really, really challenging," Whitsett said. "And when people see something we’re putting out with a date let’s 2008, they almost write it off as not reflecting the reality on the ground."

The census bureau’s budget is part of the overall budget negotiations between Congress and the White House so any final decisions could still be weeks away.