Congress takes aim at critical Census survey

Potential loss of American Community Survey huge for government, business

By , ITworld |  Big Data, Zettatag

"And then we also started digging into the details of that urban population. Understanding family structure, household size, where they were living, how big their house were… all of the information from that rich data in the ACS," added Kate Whittington, Target's Director of Guest Insight.

But opponents of the ACS see a far more sinister plan at work. The few comments of that video also are full of vitriol from people who think that the Census Bureau goes too far in gathering the ACS data and is violating their privacy. Sadly, this misperception appears to extend all the way up to members of Congress.

"I think it's important to have the information, but it's important that people have freedom and liberty and we do not have an intrusive federal government that would impose a fine on people if they didn't let the information come out about whether they had a flush toilet," said Rep. Steve King (R-IA) on the House floor late week.

The Census Bureau should probably explain what normalized data is and that the neighborhood-level data released by the Census Bureau means that individual identities are not revealed in any Census data that is gathered for at least 70 years. The recent release of 1940 Census data would be a good example of how that policy works.

And that flush toilet data (which does seem weird at first) can be used to ascertain use of water, sewage facilities, and be one marker of poverty-level living conditions.

The question is not whether the ACS should be used to spend more or less money. That is a political issue. But knowing how best to (not) spend funding should appeal to both sides of the aisle. It is telling that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which tends to be a fairly conservative organization when it comes to government regulations, strongly opposes dismantling the ACS.

"It is especially important to some of our bigger members for trying to understand geographic distinctions and other granularity in the economy," explained Martin Regalia, the Chamber of Commerce's chief economist.

The bill, H.R. 5326, is not expected to pass the Democrat-controlled Senate in its present form, thanks to the ongoing deadlock in Congress. But anyone who uses data to implement business strategy should make sure that a similar cut doesn't make it through in another bill.

Otherwise data, big or small, will become far more scarce for business, and the U.S. government will find itself merely guessing on how to appropriate funds.

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