In August 2010, U.S. Census Bureau director Robert M. Groves proudly proclaimed that Census 2010 would end up costing taxpayers at least $1.6 billion less than expected. But now as he prepares to step down, Groves tells the Washington Post that due to constantly soaring costs, the way the census counts the people must change, drastically.
"Because of the Constitution, the country will always have a census," Groves told Washington Post reporter Carol Morello in an August 3rd interview. "But how we do the census and surveys will have to change."
In her article, Census chief Robert Groves: We've got to stop counting like this, Morello quotes Groves as revealing that while Census 2010 came in under budget, it still cost taxpayers $13 billion, or about $42 for each head counted.
Noting that the cost of conducting the census had doubled every ten years since 1970, Groves told Morello the government should consider supplementing Census Bureau surveys with the extensive demographic data already collected by private industry, including credit card companies and retailers.
Also See: Census Cost to Double in 2020
In addition, Groves suggested that the census should be allowed to make more use of data on income and poverty collected by other government agencies like Social Security, the IRS, Medicare and the Food Stamp program.
To the recurring criticism of the various census surveys being too "nosey" and violating personal privacy, Groves stressed that, no matter how and from where it gets its data in the future, the Census Bureau must continue to adhere to existing laws requiring the anonymity and privacy of census records.
"The mission of the Census Bureau is to describe society and the economic activity of the country," he told Morello. "We are completely uninterested in individuals."
Also See: Census Answers are Required by Law
Will changing the census include abandoning the traditional mail-in census forms and follow-up personal visits from census takers?
While calling it too early to predict whether any operational changes would be made to the 2020 decennial census, Groves stated that the Census Bureau was planning to use the internet as an option for responding to the American Communities Survey (ACS) forms scheduled to be mailed in January 2013.
When asked if the Census Bureau had any plans to either abandon the ACS or make responding to in voluntary, as suggested by the survey's many critics, Groves told Morello that making the ACS voluntary would result in many people throwing the questionnaires away as junk mail.
Stressing the importance of the ACS to businesses and city planners, Groves told Morello, "Ask them how important it is in the lives of places trying to decide where to put retail establishments or hospitals or fire stations. All statistics are a trade-off of the value to the common good versus the burden they impose on people."
After three years as its administrator, Groves will leave the Census Bureau on August 7. Current deputy director Thomas L. Mesenbourg will serve as acting director until a replacement for Groves is chosen.