GOOD INFORMATION is the key to good decision-making, in government as well as the private sector. That's why a pending move by the Senate to cut funding for the Census Bureau is so shortsighted. The Senate would reduce its funding for fiscal 2006 to $727 million -- not just below what the Bush administration sought ($877 million) and the House approved ($812 million) but $17 million less than the bureau's funding last year.
Because accurate and timely census data are so critical, entities as diverse as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the NAACP, the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the National Association of Home Builders are pressing for extra funding. The congressional committee considering the matter as part of a 2006 appropriations bill ought to heed their concerns and accept the higher House number -- and sooner, rather than later, so that planning for the 2010 Census can go forward.
The Founding Fathers recognized the importance of a reliable census, writing the requirement of a decennial count into the Constitution. In a large and increasingly mobile society, however, tallies every 10 years are no longer adequate; it takes so long to collect and tally census data. Census officials have moved to address that problem with a monthly assessment called the American Community Survey, produced for the first time this year, which asks the same detailed demographic, economic and social questions as the census long form but produces results yearly.
The threatened funding cuts imperil the survey, which has already cost $700 million and which Census Bureau Director C. Louis Kincannon has said he would have to scrap. Not only would this be a wasteful end to a useful tool, it would actually end up costing more, rather than less, in the long run to end the survey and reinstitute the distribution of the long form every decade -- $1.3 billion, according to Bush administration estimates. Less useful data for more money is a shortsighted tradeoff -- even in this tight budgetary environment.