While the Obama administration has proposed reducing the agency’s budget from $1.15 billion to $1.02 billion, House lawmakers are considering a bill that would give the Census Bureau $885 million in 2012 — almost $300 million less. That is much deeper than the 6 percent cut being proposed for the Commerce Department, which oversees the bureau.
The Census Bureau has been criticized by some conservatives who argue its questions are intrusive. But lawmakers have said the cuts reflect economic realities, not any antagonism toward the bureau.
“In the absence of a comprehensive plan to rein in entitlements and our crushing debt, we are forced to focus only on non-security discretionary spending to achieve savings,” said Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.), head of the subcommittee that oversees Commerce.
In communications with House lawmakers, census officials have warned the impact would be long term.
“Cuts of this magnitude would mean the Census Bureau would have to terminate major statistical programs, cease critical data collection and vital benchmark reports on the nation’s economy, population and housing, and lay off as many as 700 employees,” the agency said.
Some lawmakers and census experts said the cuts would be counterproductive.
“Given the huge debate we are having about the state of the economy and what we should be doing for the next 10 years to grow jobs, it makes no sense to be gutting the data collection that tells us where we have been and where we are going,” said Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.).
Kenneth Prewitt, who headed the Census bureau during the 2000 count, said the cuts would make policymaking more difficult.
“It means the people who have to make decisions are going to scurry around to find second-rate, substitute information instead of sophisticated, carefully collected statistics that the Census Bureau, and only the Census Bureau, can provide,” he said.