The White House's recent proposal to reogranize the federal government included a provision of intense interest to the marketing research and data analytics industry: the consolidation of the biggest federal statistical agencies. However, the Insights Association today urged the Trump Administration and Congress to delay any consolidation plans until after the 2020 Census.
Howard Fienberg, VP of Advocacy for the Insights Association, commented to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee for a hearing on the reogranization plan today that "timing is essential, since we are in year eight of the decennial Census cycle, a Constitutionally-mandated schedule that we cannot risk undermining. Certainly, any reorganization could disrupt ongoing statistical programs, but the impact on the 2020 Census would be the most severe. It is the largest peacetime mobilization in the U.S. and takes a massive and coordinated effort to complete accurately and effectively."
According to the White House plan (page 60): "The U.S. Statistical System is composed of 13 principal statistical agencies across the Federal Government. Three of these agencies—the U.S. Census Bureau (Census), the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), and the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)—account for 53 percent of the System’s annual budget of $2.26 billion, and share unique synergies in their collection of economic and demographic data and analysis of key national indicators. Reorganizing these agencies under the Department of Commerce (DOC) would increase cost-effectiveness and improve data quality, while simultaneously reducing respondent burden on businesses and the public."
Of course, this is not the first time the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has considered such a proposal. For instance, the late Janet Norwood, former commissioner of the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), testified in 1996 about the feasibility of consolidating federal statistical agencies into a “Federal Statistical Service,” observing that the three agencies “are very different,” but each produce data “that are used across the entire government, and each of the agencies is in some way dependent on the other.” Norwood also highlighted a concern shared by the Insights Association, which is that reorganization should not become a replacement for budgeting. “Reductions in statistical agency budgets must be carefully weighed; the long lead time for efficient survey design and high quality conceptual research makes it very difficult, if not impossible, to turn statistical series on and off,” Norwood said.
"The Insights Association urges Congress and the White House to delay any potential reorganization involving the Census Bureau until after the decennial headcount is delivered," concluded Fienberg. "Insufficient funding for much of this decade, which led to the elimination of essential field testing (among other impacts), has endangered the accuracy and efficiency of the 2020 Census, and we cannot afford to distract the Census Bureau from this core Constitutional mission."
The Insights Association is the leading nonprofit trade association for the marketing research and data analytics industry.
UPDATE: The Insights Association sent a similar letter to the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee on July 17.