On the basis of this conclusion, we undertook the following tasks:

  • to review in broad terms the process by which the census content is decided;

  • to assess whether the content beyond that required for constitutionally mandated purposes of reapportionment and redistricting—largely the information now collected from the census long form—adversely affects census costs and coverage; and

  • to evaluate the merits of a continuous measurement data collection system (i.e., a large, continuing monthly mail household survey) as a possible replacement for the census long form.

In considering census content, we also reviewed the difficult issues posed by the collection of data on race and ethnicity. These data are vitally needed not only for redistricting under the Voting Rights Act and court decisions, but also for many other program, policy, planning, and research purposes. The results of this analysis are in Chapter 7.


In recent decades, the process of determining the questions to include in the census has involved a council or committee of federal agency representatives, coordinated by the Statistical Policy Office of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The Census Bureau has generally determined the dimensions of the "envelope," that is, the overall length of the short and long form, and has weighed in on the desirability of including questions for such purposes as coverage improvement and historical continuity. It has also evaluated questions in terms of their fitness and feasibility in a census context (thus, some questions, such as religion, are considered inappropriate for the census, and others are determined to be too complex or too subject to misinterpretation to provide reliable responses from a mail questionnaire). Within this framework, federal agencies have argued for items to serve their program and policy needs and have made trade-offs as needed. In recent censuses the Census Bureau has also sought input from states and cities and the public, through such mechanisms as public meetings. These meetings have generated a long list of potential new items to include in the census. Ultimately, however, federal agency data needs take precedence, and not even all of the agencies' proposed items can be accommodated because of the limits set by the Census Bureau on feasibility and questionnaire length.

OMB has a formal role in approving the questionnaire under the terms of the Paperwork Reduction Act. Indeed, in 1988, OMB disapproved the questionnaire for the census dress rehearsal and, by extension, for the 1990 census. OMB requested that seven housing items be moved from the short to the long form,

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