Economic census could get reprieve
Action taken by the Senate may save one of the most important economic reports in the nation from the chopping block. The 2012 economic census, which was at risk of being eliminated after the House of Representatives sliced the Census Bureau's funding 25% two months ago, could be retained after the U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations voted for a smaller funding cut and specifically voiced its support for the report. The Senate body voted to slim the Census Bureau's fiscal 2012 funding by 18%, to $943 million, from $1.15 billion in fiscal 2011. "The Committee strongly supports the Economic Census, and directs the Bureau to preserve funding when considering reductions," said the report from the committee on its vote. "Any programmatic decreases should first focus on reductions to periodic censuses and agency-wide administrative cost savings." "Is that good news!" exclaimed Maurine Haver, chair of the National Association for Business Economics 's statistics committee and president of Haver Analytics, on hearing that language. The organization has been lobbying for the preservation of the economic census, which Haver calls "the foundation of our economic statistical system." "It's really a relief to me that the Senate has actually recognized that," she added. "We've been talking to them and writing letters to make sure the importance of the economic census is being made clear. That phrase suggests to me that we did get through." The Economic Census, published every five years, provides detailed data that covers most of the U.S. economy, from the national to the local level. Industry reports include statistics such as the number of businesses, employment, payroll, capital expenditures, cost of supplies, value of shipments and receipts. "There really is no more important economic program than the economic census except perhaps for the payroll employment data," said Haver, who was receptive to the Senate committee's suggestion that other reports could be mothballed to keep the economic census going. The census is an exhaustive report that attempts to gather data from every employer in the nation. Medium-sized and large firms are asked to report multiple data variables to the Census Bureau, while data on small firms is gathered from the administrative records of other federal agencies. Because it's so extensive, it is much more expensive to produce than other economic data series gathered by government agencies, which typically rely on surveys that go out to a smaller sampling of firms. It's still unclear whether the Senate's smaller budget cut will leave the bureau enough financial wiggle room to continue producing the report, which costs $124 million, according to figures from NABE. Write to Liz Enochs.