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The Watkins Commission

Charles Sinclair Weeks
Secretary of Commerce Charles Sinclair Weeks
created the "Watkins Commission" in 1953 to
determine if economic censuses were necessary.

The economic census nearly came to an end in the 1950s as a result of constrained budgets. The Eisenhower Administration appropriated funding in 1952 and 1953 to plan and prepare for the 1954 Economic Census, however, it did not provide funds in 1954 to actually take the census. Instead it allocated money only for special surveys of manufactures and business. As a result, the U.S. Census Bureau terminated work on the economic census in 1953.

The termination of the economic census provoked considerable alarm in many government agencies and in business and academic communities. In response to complaints about the census' cancellation, the Secretary of Commerce Charles Sinclair Weeks appointed a number of academicians, business executives, economists, and other specialists not affiliated with the Census Bureau to an investigative commission chaired by Dr. Ralph J. Watkins, director of research for Dun and Bradstreet, Inc.

The "Watkins Commission" reviewed the economic census and its benefits and, in February 1954, published its report recommending its resumption. In the report, the commission noted that:

"The fact-gathering program of the Bureau is not one of assembling statistics for statistics' sake. Rather, it is a purposive program authorized by the Congress for the periodic measurement of the condition of the country. These measures serve in themselves as a basis for innumerable decisions and actions, throughout our national life.

Census measures serve also as the foundation for the great structure of current economic indicators maintained by Federal, state, and local governmental agencies and by nongovernmental institutions and agencies and business concerns and organizations. These economic indicators in turn serve as indispensable guides to action by all agencies of government and by the many millions of separate units composing our society, and not least by our 4 million business concerns.

Without these census records, it would not be possible to construct or interpret this system of economic indicators. Business executives, farmers, labor leaders, professional men, scholars, scientists, government officials, and administrators in all phases of our society are dependent on census records or on economic indicators based on census records.

[The] comprehensive system of economic indicators . . . based on relatively low-cost sampling studies and representative indexes . . . rests in one way or another on the benchmark statistics provided by the Bureau of the Census." - Watkins Commission Report.

In response to the Watkins Commission's recommendations, the Congress enacted Public Law 83-411 in June 1954, providing for censuses of manufacturing, mineral industries, and other businesses (including the distributive trades and service establishments) in the year 1955 relating to the year 1954.

For more information, download the February 1954, "Appraisal of Census Programs: Report of the Intensive Review Committee to the Secretary of Commerce," also known as "The Watkins Commission Report" [PDF 29MB].

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Source: U.S. Census Bureau | Census History Staff | Last Revised: December 08, 2021