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Director's Blog: Planned Subjects for the 2020 Census and the American Community Survey

Wed Mar 29 2017
Written by John H. Thompson
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Yesterday, the U.S. Census Bureau hit a major milestone and delivered the planned subjects for the 2020 Census and the American Community Survey (ACS) to Congress as required by law. Since releasing this information, there have been a number of questions raised about the inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity due to an error in the appendix of the report. Our proposal to Congress was that the planned subjects remain unchanged from the 2010 Census and will cover gender, age, race/ethnicity, relationship and homeownership status. It did not include sexual orientation or gender identity.

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I would like to walk through the multiyear process the Census Bureau followed to get us to this milestone. Deciding these subjects is a rigorous, iterative process completed in conjunction with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and coordinated across many federal agencies. In order for a subject to be included, there must be a clear statutory or regulatory need for data collection.

In preparation for the 2020 Census, we conducted a detailed review of decennial census and ACS content, ensuring the data are appropriate to meet a wide range of federal needs — from providing apportionment and redistricting data as part of our representative democracy, to helping distribute more than $400 billion in federal funds annually. In 2014, the Census Bureau began facilitating this review in coordination with the Offices of General Counsel at the Department of Commerce and other agencies, who reviewed each subject to determine if it had a statutory or regulatory mandate. The Census Bureau published the results in a Federal Register Notice in May 2015, with an opportunity for public comment and agency feedback.

In April 2016, more than 75 members of Congress wrote to the Census Bureau to request the addition of sexual orientation and gender identity as a subject for the American Community Survey. We carefully considered this thoughtful request and again worked with federal agencies and the OMB Interagency Working Group on Measuring Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity to determine if there was a legislative mandate to collect this data. Our review concluded there was no federal data need to change the planned census and ACS subjects.

My hope is that the process I have outlined here sheds some light and transparency on the robust process we followed. See the 2020 Census Decision Memorandum “Submission of Subjects Planned for the 2020 Census and ACS” for more detailed background on the decision process.

In 2020, our goal is to conduct a complete and accurate census. The Census Bureau remains committed to reflecting the information needs of our changing society. We will continue to examine the effectiveness of decennial census and ACS questions to collect accurate data on America’s people, places and economy.




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