The American Community Survey: Accuracy and Timeliness Issues

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Correspondence issued by the General Accounting Office with an abstract that begins "GAO has reviewed several major issues associated with the proposed full implementation of the American Community Survey (ACS) by the Bureau of the Census for 2003. If the ACS is approved, this mandatory mail survey would cost from $120 to $150 million a year, and would require responses from a sample of 3 million households to some 60 to 70 questions. The ACS would replace the decennial census long form for 2010 and subsequent decennial censuses. On the basis of sampling errors and related measures of reliability, the ... continued below

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United States. General Accounting Office. September 30, 2002.

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Description

Correspondence issued by the General Accounting Office with an abstract that begins "GAO has reviewed several major issues associated with the proposed full implementation of the American Community Survey (ACS) by the Bureau of the Census for 2003. If the ACS is approved, this mandatory mail survey would cost from $120 to $150 million a year, and would require responses from a sample of 3 million households to some 60 to 70 questions. The ACS would replace the decennial census long form for 2010 and subsequent decennial censuses. On the basis of sampling errors and related measures of reliability, the Census Bureau has decided that ACS data will be published annually for geographic areas with a population of over 65,000; as 3-year averages for geographic areas with a population of 20,000 to 65,000; and as 5-year averages for geographic areas with a population of less than 20,000. According to the Bureau, the annual ACS data and 3-year averages would be significantly less accurate than data for 2010 from the decennial census long form; 5-year averages, which would be available at the detailed long-form level of geographic detail, would be about as accurate as the long-form data. Federal agencies that extensively use the 2000 Decennial Census long-form data for program implementation would use ACS data in the future if the long form was eliminated. The questions to be asked in the 2003 ACS reflect justifications--specific statutes, regulations, and court cases--provided to the Bureau by federal agencies. To identify these justifications, the Bureau worked with the agencies using a process similar to that used to prepare the justifications for the questions on the 2000 Decennial Census long form. The Bureau's plan to use responses to ACS questions to develop samples for additional surveys is not prohibited by the disclosure provisions in 13 U.S.C. 9, as long as the Bureau conducts the surveys. Some ACS questions duplicated or are similar to questions on two existing federal surveys. Identical questions could be eliminated from the existing surveys because the ACS data would be more accurate, available at greater geographic detail, and more timely. Similar questions could be eliminated if the greater ACS accuracy, detail, and timelines offset the advantage of asking additional and more relevant questions on these surveys. The Bureau determined, and GAO has agreed in a recently issued legal opinion, that it has the statutory authority to conduct the ACS as a mandatory survey, like the decennial census long form the ACS would replace. If the ACS was conducted as a voluntary survey, the Bureau would need to make up for the lower mail response with more interviews to maintain the proposed level of accuracy of the ACS. Because obtaining responses by interview is more costly than obtaining responses by mail, conducting the ACS as a voluntary survey would be more expensive. The Bureau used a number of strategies to encourage participation in the ACS test program, which started in 1996. Two of the key strategies were (1) the training of interviewers, whose job it was to collect data from households that did not return the mail questionnaires, and (2) outreach and promotion efforts. Telephone and in-person interviewers were provided scripted replies, designed to overcome the objections of nonrespondents, that highlighted themes such as the importance of ACS data to the community and the legal requirement to participate in the ACS. Since 1997, outreach and promotion efforts have increased to include local workshops and town hall meetings, as well as contacts with representatives of print and broadcast media, professional journals, and umbrella organizations."

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Government Accountability Office Reports

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) is an independent, nonpartisan agency that works for the U.S. Congress investigating how the federal government spends taxpayers' money. Its goal is to increase accountability and improve the performance of the federal government. The Government Accountability Office Reports Collection consists of over 13,000 documents on a variety of topics ranging from fiscal issues to international affairs.

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  • September 30, 2002

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  • June 12, 2014, 7:50 p.m.

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United States. General Accounting Office. The American Community Survey: Accuracy and Timeliness Issues, text, September 30, 2002; Washington D.C.. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc296585/: accessed November 20, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.