The Federal Statistical System in the 21st Century: The Role of the Census Bureau

Andrew Reamer
Andrew Reamer Former Brookings Expert

July 21, 2009

Chairwoman Maloney, Vice Chairman Schumer, Congressman Brady, Senator Brownback, and members of the Joint Economic Committee, I am pleased to speak to you today about the role of the Census Bureau in a 21st century federal statistical system.

Census Bureau data are essential to the effective functioning of our nation’s democracy, public policy at all levels of government, and our $14 trillion economy. For example, congressional apportionment and redistricting; federal macroeconomic and regional economic development policies; the annual distribution of a half trillion dollars in federal funds; the enforcement of the Voting Rights Act and the Fair Housing Act; state road-building and emergency planning; the placement of public schools and community health centers; and business startup, location, and investment decisions all rely on Census Bureau statistics. At the most fundamental level, the nation could not operate without this agency.

Relative to the enormity of the political and economic impacts, the size of the Census Bureau operation is very small. Outside the Decennial Census, Census Bureau operations cost in the range of $500 million annually; averaged over a decade, the cost of the 2010 Census operation is about $1.5 billion a year. The return to the nation on this investment in the Census Bureau is nearly infinite.

However, the Census Bureau is not yet a 21st century statistical agency. While the bureau has made substantial, innovative advances in improving the value of its data offerings, I believe these offerings need to more fully reflect three new realities:

  • major changes in the nation’s economic structure,
  • the potential for Census Bureau data to enable more informed, effective nonfederal public and private decision-making across the nation, and
  • significant opportunities for new data products and techniques afforded by large scale advances in information technology.