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Public Statements

Smart Spending Cuts Starting with the Census

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. COLLINS of Georgia. Mr. Speaker, it is good to be back here working on the floor of this House. As we have gotten back started, there are a lot of issues, there are a lot of things being debated, even here tonight being spoken of from a factor of truth and things that I think the American people sent us here to do.

They sent us here to look after the people's House, to do the business of America and make sure that the important interests that they care about, which are their lives and their businesses, their families, those are the things that we need to be about. And I know from our prospects on the Republican side, that is exactly what we're looking at to foster jobs and create growth and to do the things that matter.

But while I was home over the August work period, I got a lot of questions from longtime friends and also folks that had I not met. Over the time frame, we spoke to more groups than I could count. We talked to individuals, whether they be in the Kroger shopping center, whether they be in a coffee shop, whether they were in town hall meetings or all over, we experienced the Ninth District again as we went out and listened to our constituency. And what I had learned about the first few months was a lot of things that they wanted to ask me about.

You see, I have got questions about the budget. I have got questions about taxes. I have got questions about how we were going to prevent ObamaCare from going into effect. And I'm glad to stand here tonight and say that this Friday we're living up to the promise, as we have already worked to repeal parts of this legislation and to put this back on a foundation which the President can no longer just do by executive order whatever he would like, even in contradiction to black letter law.

When we look at the issues of ObamaCare going forward on Friday on this House floor, we are going to move forward with a continuing resolution to keep this government functioning while, at the same time, protecting Americans from a bad health care law.

Do not let anyone--if you're watching tonight, do not let anyone tell you any different. Republicans want to keep the government functioning and protect Americans at the same time. We can do that. That's why we were sent here.

All those things that we were asked questions about, from ObamaCare to taxes to budget, but also Benghazi and IRS. And a little over a year ago, on the floor of this House, and all of America, we were horrified at the sights of Benghazi. And to know that this week we're continuing to look and to find the truth, so not just we look backwards and remember, but that we look forward so that we can put into place things that matter and things that will help those from the Ninth District of Georgia and all over the country who want to go into Foreign Service, who want to serve their country, so that when they go overseas to serve, they will know that if trouble comes we have their back. Those are the things that the Ninth District were talking to me about, and those are the things that this Congress and this Republican majority are putting a priority on.

But while I was at home, I was also fortunate enough to get to talk to people who don't have time to focus on inside-the-Beltway issues. In fact, they really don't look to inside the Beltway to determine how they're going to get up and live each day.

In fact, when I go home and visit constituents in hardware stores and pharmacies and small businesses where regular Americans go on a daily basis, I'm reminded of why my constituents elected me to be here. These are the places populated by the people who don't ask for much for their government. They just pay their taxes. They pay their bills.

They get up in the mornings, they send their kids to school, and they go to work, and they come back home in the evenings and they go to ball games and they go to their parents' house. They take care of their relatives, they take of their neighbors. They look after their schools. They look after their communities.

And what they want is just a government that leaves them alone, that does what it's supposed to do, while they do what they're supposed to do.

You see, they don't believe that government is the solution to all problems. In fact, they don't look to Washington for their solution. They look for Washington to do what it was supposed to do, as the Founders intended: to be a form of limited government, a place that provides a healthy playing field, but it only provides it within the limited confines of the Constitution and what the Founders intended this organization and this government to be.

When we look at this, they look around, they scratch their head and they say, when they see Washington not working, when they see it overreaching, when they see it getting into their lives and affecting their businesses and keeping their business from expanding by regulation that continues to tear down the fabric of new business growth through our banking sector and others, through our manufacturing sector, and removing the jobs at the expense of growing government jobs, they want to know, they say, ``Doug, can Washington be fixed?''

Fixing the small things sometimes is not real vogue in this town. And when we think about that, and when they ask me the question, can Washington be fixed, I'm able to tell them that we can fix Washington, but it's going to take hard work and a lot of focus, which the people of the Ninth District of Georgia know a lot about, and also a lot of our country. In fact, our country is based on hard work and focus, and that's what makes this country great.

First of all, we're going to have to start by fixing the small things. They

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sent us here to Washington to fix it, but we often get so focused on the big ticket items of the day that we miss out on reforming the small things that are right in front of us, the things that can actually be fixed without a drawn-out, partisan fight.
And I say so many times, people say, what are you fighting about? And many times it's hard to explain. But there are some things that we can do that we can all agree upon. There are spending categories all over the Federal Government where billions of dollars are being wasted and not put to good use.

In fact, in my time here looking back through the reports from the Government Accountability Office, you see the same programs listed as high risk year after year. We're ignoring billions of dollars in savings by overlooking the small things.

I am a big believer that if you do the small things regularly and consistently, they become habit. And we, as a government, if we would focus on the small things, if we focused on the things that mattered and the things that we could get agreement on, then the American people would, slowly but surely, begin to rebuild the trust that they have in this institution.

You see, one of the things I want to talk about tonight, I serve on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and I serve on the Subcommittee on Federal Work Force, U.S. Postal Service and the Census.

Now, I have to admit, when I first was assigned to this subcommittee I thought to myself, what does this committee do, and why am I on it?

And then I began to look into it, and I began to see what it actually works toward, and what are the things that are under its jurisdiction, whether it be the Federal work force and the issues involved there, or it's the Postal Service, which affects every American, or the census. Yes, the census.

One small thing that we spend money on is actually a pretty big thing. It's a decennial census. Using inflation-adjusted dollars, the cost of the census that the government administers every 10 years has risen over 600 percent since 1970.

If you look at this chart right here, you can see, since 1970, see the growth that has happened in the cost of the census. The census cost just $17 per household in 1970, but it's almost doubled in cost every 10 years, to the point that the 2010 census cost $115 for every household in America.

Now, I'm going to stop right here for just a second. And I'm sure that maybe if you are tuning in tonight you're going to say, maybe you would ask if you're watching this on another medium, and I'm sure a lot of you are asking right now, why is Doug Collins on the floor talking about the census?

I'm here because the census is a great example of how we can start to save taxpayer money by reforming the small things.

This government has a spending problem. We spend money on more agencies and bureaus than most Americans can possibly comprehend. All these pieces add up to budget problems that we face today. And if we don't start fixing the small pieces now, how will we ever begin to address the big ones?

We spent almost $15 billion on the census in 2010, $15 billion. And if we don't start planning now, some projections indicate we could spend as much as $25 billion in 2020, $25 billion in 2020, a little over 10 years, we're again adding 10, and some estimates think it could go as high as $30 billion.

In a subcommittee of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee last week, we heard from the new Director of the Census Bureau about steps that can be taken to keep these costs from going up.

However, the National Academy of Sciences has stated that it is possible that the 2020 census could cost even less than the 2010 version. With the technological developments that have taken place over the last decade, we now have the ability to utilize the Internet and mobile devices in ways that can dramatically cut costs.

We know that the younger generation of Americans is the most difficult to obtain responses from when the census is issued. They're mobile, they're busy, and they just have no interest in filling out surveys with a pencil and paper and mailing it back.

They are much more comfortable using the Internet than any previous generations. They're digital natives. It comes natural to them.

Luckily, we have the ability to utilize the Internet for responses in 2020. We already allow individuals to file their income tax returns online. Implementing an online option for the census is a no-brainer. Instead of sending out multiple mailings, and sending an hourly worker to gather the data, the Census Bureau can use a secure online survey.

This also cuts down on the time it would take for someone to transcribe a written response into an electronic record. Both of these measures have the potential to cut labor costs and, most importantly, to save taxpayer money.

Another way that we can encourage people to take part in the census is through incentives. At a cost of over $100 per household, we need to consider creating incentives to reduce follow-up responses.

Improving the initial response rate by just 1 percent saves $85 million in taxpayer money. Remember, taxpayer money. It's a word thrown around up here in Washington a lot, but let's just make it very simple: taxpayer money is what's in your wallet right now. That is all that we have to run on, unless we're borrowing it or printing it.

We need to remember where our money comes from and why it's important to save it.

Whether it is through a small targeted incentive, or a partnership with a local school or community, or something that we have not even thought of yet, beginning these discussions now will prepare us to implement them in time for the 2020 census.

This is important because many of you say it's still several years away. But I'm often amazed, as when I was pastoring, I used to talk to people all the time who would find themselves in March and April, and they could not understand why they were in debt.

And I would often hear them make this statement. They made the statement that, you know, Christmas and the holidays just snuck up on me this year. And I'd think to myself, it's the same time every year. How did it sneak up on you?

And in 10 years, we do the census every year. Why aren't we putting our thought into it now?

And I'm glad to see that our committee is doing that.

When we heard from the Census Bureau at a hearing, we also learned that some of the built-in costs of the census come from needing to ask questions requested by congressional committees. We have the power to add questions, but we should also consider using that same power to remove some.

Every question asked on the census adds more cost to the process and requires taxpayer funding.

I hear from constituents often that the census and the American Community Survey are too long and too intrusive. While we can debate this issue at another time, there is no doubt that we should consider the cost-saving potentials of revisiting these questions asked because people do not have time to fill out long surveys that they find too intrusive and too over-the-top and too overbearing, accompanied with that famous, If you don't fill it out, you're under a penalty of criminal law.

We've got to get back to what really matters. And one of the things is saving money and time.

Another area of savings we should be looking into is technology based on mapping software. As anyone who has had a smartphone really can attest, the mapping technology in a small device is truly remarkable.

A significant cost that adds to the census is when surveyors drive their cars through urban and suburban areas and then have to get out and walk to individual houses.

Oftentimes they have to deal with traffic, depending on the time of day or the part of town that they may be in. As mapping technology is evolving, we now have the ability to minimize the amount of time census employees spend in traffic.

We have seen this technology in action in the private sector. You would expect the private sector to know how to save money and to earn the profit. That's exactly what they're in business to do.

A company like UPS has been able to develop software that optimizes the efficiency of their employees so that

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they take as few left turns as possible. A driver might make three right turns to avoid making a left turn.
While this seems counterintuitive, they found that it actually saves money. The employees spend less time sitting at traffic lights and are able to service more households per day. If the census can an employ a mobile technology along these same lines, the bureau has the ability to save taxpayer dollars.

Now, understand something: none of these cost-saving measures are truly revolutionary. None of them will shock people or cause a partisan divide. I doubt that our offices will be flooded with constituent calls asking us to adopt them.

But simply put, they're all commonsense measures that will save taxpayer money. The ideas have worked in other areas of government, and have worked in the private sector.

Sometimes it doesn't take a revolutionary idea to be a good one. It often takes a group of leaders deciding to focus on an issue and keep pushing it until the process improves. We have a chance to improve the census and to rein in the costs.

As previously stated, we have the ability to save $10 billion in future taxpayer cost. As I said earlier, the big things will always work themselves out. We can even run from crisis to crisis up here, and people will focus on the big things, and we will continue to work on those because they matter.

But it's time we gave some consideration to the small things. When we add the small pieces together, we start to actually reduce the deficit and get this country back on solid financial ground.

This is not a small thing. This is what matters to the people back home. This is what matters when they come up to me in the grocery store and they talk about Washington being broken. They want to know how it affects them at their table, at their homes, and with their families.

When we start focusing on the small things, the big things get in perspective even clearer, and we're up here doing exactly what we are supposed to be. And the Republican majority is focused on limited government, focusing on jobs, and getting America back to work again with a government that does what it's supposed to do and gets out of the way.

With that, Mr. Speaker, I thank you for allowing me to speak on this subject tonight, and I yield back the balance of my time.

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