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Michael McAuliff
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Robert Groves, Census Director, Hammers House For Cutting Major U.S. Survey

Posted: 05/11/2012 5:33 pm Updated: 05/14/2012 12:21 pm

WASHINGTON -- The head of the U.S. Census Bureau hammered the House of Representatives on Friday for passing a bill that he said "devastates" the nation's ability to measure its economy and understand its people.

The House slashed the bureau's budget in the appropriations bill for commerce, justice and science programs, which it passed Thursday, and specifically barred the agency from conducting the American Community Survey, some form of which has been done since 1790.

Census officials, who usually stay very nonpartisan, had been relatively restrained in pointing out the damage likely to stem from proposed cuts that were deeper than those already suggested, noting simply that the quality of the nation's economic data would suffer.

But after the House passed its bill cutting more funds and eliminating the long-form community survey entirely, a Capitol Hill staffer told The Huffington Post, Census head Robert Groves decided to take the gloves off, with administration approval.

"This bill ... devastates the nation's statistical information about the status of the economy and the larger society," Groves said in a new video released on the agency's website (see above). "Modern societies need current detailed social and economic statistics. The U.S. is losing them."

Officials had already been concerned that, due to the overall budget cuts, the Economic Census would not be able to provide the accurate data relied upon by businesses to make all manner of decisions. That survey measures some 25 million businesses and 1,100 industries in the United States.

The American Community Survey gathers detailed information on the population of the country and is a critical tool for researchers. It also is used extensively by business and government to make financial and policy decisions. For instance, a 2010 analysis of Census data found that information from the American Community Survey was used to steer more than $825 million in federal money to the three largest counties in the Florida district of Republican Rep. Daniel Webster, who sponsored the amendment to kill the survey.

Indeed, data from the American Community Survey are nearly ubiquitous. Most of the House members who voted to end the survey have links to it on their official websites so that constituents can learn more about their communities. Webster's own site links to the information (see screen shot).

Webster's office did not comment directly on Groves' statement, but referred to Webster's remarks on the House floor remarks on his amendment.

But Republicans argued that the survey was unconstitutional and too intrusive because it asks such questions as how many flush toilets people have in their homes and whether they are married. A recent study by the Brookings Institution's Andrew Reamer found that seven of those questions -- including the one on marriage -- have been on the survey since 1850.

The survey for next year had been slated to cost $242 million, a decrease of more than $10 million from this year.

Update: Monday, 12 noon
This story was updated to include Rep. Webster's response and fix a link to the 2010 analysis.

Michael McAuliff covers politics and Congress for The Huffington Post. Talk to him on Facebook.

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