Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA-49), speaking at an oversight hearing on the 2020 Census, relayed his anecdote of receiving the American Community Survey (ACS) at his home in Washington, DC, “a house that receives no mail, has no bank accounts, absolutely nothing to it. And yet, for whatever reason, it's the target of a community survey for which I ignore to be honest. I don't really ignore it. I take it into my staff and they then send it to the Census Bureau to say ‘This is silly’.”
He then asked if the ACS must be completely random like this in order to be accurate.
The Bureau, Issa said, “always seems surprised that 10 years have passed. They always seem a little shocked that they didn't make it and then they start talking about funding for something they have 10 years.”
Instead, the Congressman suggested, “wouldn't America be better off with continuous, accurate counting, a system in when the Census Bureau in its many activities, including the aforementioned American Community Survey, would be constantly doing its job. It would be not be trying to do something once every 10 years.” Drawing on business experience, “shouldn't we begin the process, even if it requires Congressional action to go to a continuous counting system, to make it constitutional, but to make it much more accurate which today with tools both in counting and to be honest with the modern computer accuracy of what we know and where we know it, couldn't we do the American people a better service?”
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross responded that the hurdle to amending the Constitution to make the headcount constant instead of decennial would be high, to which Issa agreed. However, the benefit to having accurate population data, instead of relying on years-old data, would be worth it, Issa insisted.
“If we look at what we should do for our progeny in the decades and centuries to come,” Issa contended, “if we begin now with some sort of effective study and of course this should be based on the people behind you for the beginning, but then, a commission that would in fact check out the feasibility, run the questions, create the question of could we have a higher confidence and could we have it every day of every month of every year rather than the estimates today which we rely on the estimates during the interim period, why are they not as accurate or more accurate than the once every 10 years?”
Issa wanted to plant the seeds of the idea of constant head-counting with the Commerce Secretary, “because your real legacy can only be affected slightly in what you do from the time you take over to the time we have our Census.” Ultimately, he said, we “could improve the system just as any of the portfolio of companies that you are familiar with would never close for a week once a year and think that that's the best way to count inventory.”
Ross suspected that a continual headcount “would be a very large undertaking,” with a lot of pluses and minuses, so an exploration of the idea “would require additional Congressional" appropriation. “I don't want to divert any of the Census people from the task at hand because this is a heavy enough lift the way it is. So, to take some of them off that job and think about a possible alternative I really don't think is in the public's interest. So, that would have to be a separate appropriation.”