Dear Chairman Serrano and Ranking Member Aderholt,
As you consider appropriations for fiscal year 2020, we respectfully urge you to provide at least $8 billion in funding to the U.S. Census Bureau. This amount is $800 million above the Administration's FY2020 request of $7.2 billion for the Bureau and reflects the level stated in the Department of Commerce's revised FY2019 cost estimate for the 2020 Census. As you know, FY2020 marks "Census Year" where operations will be finalized, Americans will fill out their census forms, and census enumerators will go door to door to count those households who did not respond to their census questionnaire.
The decennial census is a cornerstone of our constitutional system of government. It is used to apportion seats in the House of Representatives and the electoral college. Census data helps the private sector make sound investments by identifying unsaturated or emerging growth markets and developing business plans and loan applications. The data also helps Congress make decisions on how to fairly distribute over $800 billion in federal funding including, homeland security grants, funding for first responders, special-education and rural business enterprise grants, and other programs key to the American economy.
The 2020 Census is expected to be the largest and most digitally advanced census ever conducted, embracing new technology and data collection methods for the first time. This will be the first time U.S. households will be able to fill out their census questionnaire online or over the telephone. Historically, about half of the 10-year lifecycle cost of the decennial census is spent in the census year (i.e fiscal year ending in "0"). The Census Bureau's October 2017 revised lifecycle estimate came to $15.6 billion. Therefore, we believe that a request of at least $8 billion is commensurate with historical spending levels and necessary given the broad "to do" list facing the Bureau ahead of enumeration.
Fiscal Year 2020 marks the year when peak counting operations will begin. Prior to that, however, the Bureau must recruit, screen, hire, and train at least half a million enumerators, supervisors, and other field staff as well as individuals to work at telephone assistance and data processing centers. The Bureau will also have to mail or hand deliver questionnaires and letters of invitation to more than 140 million households across the country.
In addition to massive staffing, printing, and mailing requirements, appropriating sufficient funding in FY2020 is essential to ensuring that critical information technology systems are properly scaled and secured, and that the bureau has the resources to monitor cyber-threats and disinformation campaigns as well as finalize electronic versions of the census forms and assistance guides. Such work is vital to both keeping census systems secure while also reinforcing public trust in an online response system which is being utilized for the first time.
Unfortunately, the Census Bureau, and more broadly the federal government, are experiencing historic levels of public distrust, exacerbated by the Trump Administrations attempts to add a question on citizenship to the census questionnaire. While this question is being challenged in Court and in Congress, in continues to pose a serious threat to an accurate count if swaths of the population feel uncomfortable responding to a federal government survey, even one as critical and consequential as the decennial census. Adequate funding is essential to ensure that the Bureau can launch a general and targeted communications campaign in the first half of fiscal year 2020. Additionally, the Bureau must ramp up outreach to "trusted partners" who will act as trusted messengers of the census' importance through the Census Bureau Partnership Program. These efforts are essential to mitigating public distrust and achieving a high self-response rate to avoid additional costs later.
Thank you for considering our views on this important matter. While we recognize and appreciate the challenges your Committee faces in drafting this legislation, we strongly urge you to provide at least $8 billion for the U.S. Census Bureau so that it may fulfill its Constitutional mandate effectively and accurately.