Connecting state and local government leaders

Survey of U.S. City Halls Shows Why Quality Census Data Is Vital for Local Governments

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Connecting state and local government leaders

A lack of Census Bureau leadership and funding could taint federal data and jeopardize local operations, according to the Sunlight Foundation.

Federal demographics, housing and economic data are the types most frequently used by city agencies that generally rely on six or more categories, according to a recent Sunlight Foundation survey.

The federal government collects information that cities and other local jurisdictions often cannot efficiently gather themselves to allocate resources, prioritize projects and compare their performance against other municipalities.

So it’s troublesome 118 city staffers from a variety of departments across 63 cities were essentially evenly split on whether that data will get more or less accurate and more or less accessible under the Trump administration, while 37 percent of respondents expected a decline in frequency.

“Eroding federal data programs means cities would be less able to make decisions based on evidence,” according to the Sunlight Foundation report. “That would be bad for cities as well as the American people.”

Fears of such erosion aren’t helped by the fact President Trump has yet to nominate a U.S. Census Bureau head, chief technology officer or chief of data science. The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy is effectively gutted, according to the report, and Housing and Urban Development Department, with its trove of housing market and affordability data, may be given the same treatment.

In early October, the NAACP sued the U.S. Department of Commerce for information on 2020 census preparations.

Seventy-four percent of respondents said federal data was important to their department’s mission, with Census Bureau data topping the list.

“It is hard to overstate how widely used Census data is,” reads the report. “Respondents explained that Census data informed everything from annual budgets to outreach efforts to long-term planning for many cities.”

In the next five years, 43 percent of respondents said they planned to use more federal data, but finding, accessing and using that information is already tough.

Appropriate census funding and bureau leadership will be critical to assisting cities with their operations, the report concludes.

Dave Nyczepir is a News Editor at Government Executive’s Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

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