Skip to main content

Getting rid of census survey is wasteful

By Ilyse Hogue, Special to CNN
May 23, 2012 -- Updated 1702 GMT (0102 HKT)
American Community Survey data shows who has health insurance so care can be directed toward certain people and places.
American Community Survey data shows who has health insurance so care can be directed toward certain people and places.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ilyse Hogue: It's odd House GOP voted to kill Census Bureau's American Community Survey
  • She says survey makes government more efficient, is a critical tool for businesses
  • Without it, she says, government will lack crucial information on where citizens are, their needs
  • Hogue: If it's a tea party-driven yen to cut waste, it will do the opposite by misdirecting funds

Editor's note: Ilyse Hogue is the former director of political advocacy and communications for MoveOn.org. She has been a senior strategist to a number of Democratic and progressive groups, including Media Matters for America, Public Campaign and Rebuild the Dream. She is a regular contributor to The Nation magazine.

(CNN) -- It's always been a mystery to me why Republican lawmakers who denounce the evils of government choose to run for office. If your belief is that the private sector holds the answers to all that ails us, it seems like you would want to go out and prove the case. So the May 9 vote by the House GOP to eliminate the American Community Survey, which collects statistics about the nation's population, is confusing.

Doing away with the data collection would seem to commit two cardinal sins against the right's ideology: Make government less efficient and eliminate a critical tool for profit-driven business.

You may not know the American Community Survey as separate from the U.S. census. While the census takes place once every 10 years, the ACS is an ongoing data collection survey administered by the U.S. Census Bureau to provide more in-depth and current statistics about demographic patterns in America.

This information is crucial if you care about smart direction of the $400 billion in annual state and federal grants to schools, hospitals, infrastructure projects and other critical services.

Ilyse Hogue
Ilyse Hogue

The data derived from the survey provides guidance about how to divvy up best those hard-earned taxpayer dollars so that they are spent with as much care and precision as possible.

Apparently, that dynamic is lost on U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster, a Republican who beat Alan Grayson to win Florida's 8th Congressional District in 2010. He introduced the amendment to repeal the survey as a way to make good on his campaign promise to "stop wasteful spending." With the affirmative House vote, he hopes to save $2.5 billion over the next decade. Here's the rub though. If Webster gets his way, Americans will spend $4 trillion in that same time period with no data to guide the funds -- essentially shooting in the dark with a massive amount of money.

That's the antithesis of efficiency; vastly more than $2.4 billion is likely to be wasted in the process. It seems that along with climate change and evolution, statistical science now appears to be viewed with suspicion by the tea party. I've not heard an alternative: perhaps a dartboard with pictures of all the states on it?

The GOP claims the survey is intrusive. But I have to wonder if the vote to repeal the survey is just a step toward tea party Republicans' Holy Grail of eliminating government spending entirely and with it, the $400 billion in annual disbursements.

If that is the path forward, let's look at where that road functionally leads us: Without the American Community Survey, we won't know where veterans are living, so we can't get them the financial assistance they're owed for their service to our country. Without the federal and state grants, we simply can't take care of them at all once they come home.

Without the survey, we can't know where there are pockets of uninsured people, so health care funds can be directed toward offsetting the costs of emergency room visits.

Without the state and federal grants, doctors will be forced either to let people suffer and die or raise costs on all their patients to make good on their Hippocratic oath.

Without the survey, we won't know where Americans still lack flush toilets and therefore risk contaminating the groundwater we all drink. Without the federal and state grants, we can't mitigate the impact of raw sewage on our water supply and prevent disease from spreading when our water gets tainted.

Webster might say: "Let the private sector take care of it." On that point, we can agree: The private sector can and should play a larger role maintaining the health of our country. The flaw in that plan is that our business sector is very reliant on the American Community Survey in making decisions about how best to serve their customers. That's why trade groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Homebuilders have voiced their opposition to the Webster amendment.

The data provided from the survey has informed everything from where to locate new stores to what kinds of products are popular with consumers.

These trade groups are hardly a bastion for government expansionists, and their opposition to this bill reveals the critical wedge in the Republican coalition. The business-first wing of the party is all too happy to allow government to foot the bill -- in this case, for solid market research -- when it's convenient for them. The small-government ideologues are more than happy to dismantle government piece by piece even when it harms business and creates bad spending strategies.

When asked about the elimination of the survey, MIT economist Jonathan Gruber said, "If you're opposed to the survey, you're opposed to understanding what's going on in America." For this reason, it will be an uphill climb to get the measure to pass the Senate and get signed by the president. Still, the initiative and the vote are telling.

If knowledge is power and ignorance is bliss, eliminating the American Community Survey will only pay dividends for those who live in powerful bliss. The rest of us would have to suffer through the mess being made of the informed and democratic process.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ilyse Hogue.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
April 23, 2014 -- Updated 1641 GMT (0041 HKT)
Robert Hickey says most new housing development is high-end, catering to high-earners.
April 23, 2014 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
Alexander Motyl says as Russian President Putin snarled at Ukraine, his foreign minister was signing a conciliatory accord with the West. Whatever the game, the accord is a major stand down by Russia
April 23, 2014 -- Updated 1229 GMT (2029 HKT)
Les Abend says at every turn, the stowaway teen defied the odds of discovery and survival. What pilot would have thought to look for a person in the wheel well?
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 2247 GMT (0647 HKT)
Q & A with artist Rachel Sussman on her new book of photographs, "The Oldest Living Things in the World."
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1958 GMT (0358 HKT)
Martin Blaser says the overuse of antibiotics threatens to deplete our bodies of "good" microbes, leaving us vulnerable to an unstoppable plague--an "antibiotic winter"
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1737 GMT (0137 HKT)
John Sutter asks: Is it possible to eat meat in modern-day America and consider yourself an environmentalist without being a hypocrite?
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1538 GMT (2338 HKT)
Sally Kohn notes that Meb Keflezighi rightly was called an American after he won the Boston Marathon, but his status in the U.S. once was questioned
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1256 GMT (2056 HKT)
Denis Hayes and Scott Denman say on this Earth Day, the dawn of the Solar Age is already upon us and the Atomic Age of nuclear power is in decline
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 2036 GMT (0436 HKT)
Retired Coast Guard officer James Loy says a ship captain bears huge responsibility.
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1708 GMT (0108 HKT)
Peter Bergen says the latest strikes are part of an aggressive U.S. effort to target militants, including a bomb maker
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Cynthia Lummis and Peter Welch say 16 agencies carry out national intelligence, and their budgets are top secret. We need to know how they are spending our money.
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1235 GMT (2035 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says President Obama knows more than anyone that he has much at stake in the midterm elections.
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1255 GMT (2055 HKT)
Eric Sanderson says if you really want to strike a blow for the environment--and your health--this Earth Day, work to get cars out of cities and create transportation alternatives
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1408 GMT (2208 HKT)
Bruce Barcott looks at the dramatic differences in marijuana laws in Colorado and Louisiana
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 2047 GMT (0447 HKT)
Jim Bell says NASA's latest discovery supports the notion that habitable worlds are probably common in the galaxy.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1817 GMT (0217 HKT)
Jay Parini says even the Gospels skip the actual Resurrection and are sketchy on the appearances that followed.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1752 GMT (0152 HKT)
Graham Allison says if an unchecked and emboldened Russia foments conflict in a nation like Latvia, a NATO member, the West would have to defend it.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
John Sutter: Bad news, guys -- the pangolin we adopted is missing.
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1825 GMT (0225 HKT)
Ben Wildavsky says we need a better way to determine whether colleges are turning out graduates with superior education and abilities.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1026 GMT (1826 HKT)
Charles Maclin, program manager working on the search and recovery of Malaysia Flight 370, explains how it works.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1250 GMT (2050 HKT)
Jill Koyama says Michael Bloomberg is right to tackle gun violence, but we need to go beyond piecemeal state legislation.
April 17, 2014 -- Updated 1845 GMT (0245 HKT)
Michael Bloomberg and Shannon Watts say Americans are ready for sensible gun laws, but politicians are cowed by the NRA. Everytown for Gun Safety will prove the NRA is not that powerful.
ADVERTISEMENT