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H.R. 931: To make participation in the American Community Survey ...

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March 1, 2012


The Honorable Trey Gowdy (R-SC-04), Chairman

The Honorable Danny K. Davis (D-IL-07), Ranking Member

Subcommittee on Health Care, District of Columbia, Census and the National Archives

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee


Re: H.R. 931


Dear Chairman Gowdy and Ranking Member Davis:


I write to share the concerns of the survey and opinion research profession[1] that H.R. 931, legislation sponsored by Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX-02) that will be the subject of a Subcommittee hearing on March 6, could effectively gut the American Community Survey (ACS).


My name is Howard Fienberg, and I am the Director of Government Affairs for the Marketing Research Association (MRA), the leading and largest association of the research profession. MRA promotes, advocates and protects the integrity of the research profession and strives to improve the research process, research participation and quality.


The ACS is a mandatory survey administered by the Census Bureau sent to 3 million households every year and covers many topics, including race, ethnicity, gender, and education, and replaced the traditional Census long form several years ago. H.R. 931 would make responses to all but four ACS questions -- Name, contact information, date of response, and number of people living or staying at the same address -- voluntary.

Any experienced survey researcher could explain that such a change will almost certainly increase costs, not decrease them, since more time and money will have to be spent to secure sufficient respondent cooperation. In fact, the Census Bureau tested a voluntary response option to the ACS in 2008 and discovered what we would expect: mail response rates dropped by more than 20 percent, overall response and completion rates tanked, and the survey's cost increased by more than 30 percent. In reality, the effects of H.R. 931 would likely be even more dramatic: (1) incomplete responses would result in severely less accurate data, which the Bureau would have to go to great lengths to adjust and account for, a process of statistical adjustment that many Members of Congress have expressed concerns about in the past; and the Bureau would have to rely on more expensive and time-consuming data collection methods, like telephone and door-to-door, in order to achieve tolerable levels of completion. In an era of belt-tightening and budget balancing, Members of Congress must ask themselves if they want to spend at least 30 percent more money (and likely a whole lot more) just to get something close to the results they do now.


MRA understands and sympathizes with the concerns of H.R. 931’s supporters that some of the ACS questions may appear to be intrusive, but we encourage Members and the public to look at the Census Bureau’s leading practices and policies on privacy and confidentiality.[2]


Matching current results under a voluntary model would be extremely expensive and ACS data is too important to effectively impair the survey. Mr. Chairman, Mr. Ranking Member, we respectfully request that you and the members of the Subcommittee keep these points firmly in mind during this hearing next week.



Howard Fienberg, PLC

Director of Government Affairs

Marketing Research Association (MRA)

[1] The research profession is a multi-billion dollar worldwide industry, comprised of pollsters and government, public opinion, academic and goods and services researchers.  Purchasers of opinion and survey research include the government (the world’s largest purchaser), media, political campaigns, and commercial and non-profit entities.