WASHINGTON — Reps. Charlie Dent (R-PA) joined with Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), plus Senator Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK), to introduce the “Census Oversight Efficiency and Management Reform Act.” This bipartisan legislation would improve Census management challenges which arise from the fact that the Census operates on a constitutionally mandated ten-year cycle while Presidential administrations which oversee management of the Census operate on a four-year cycle.
The bill strengthens Congressional oversight of the Census to help prevent operational problems that have emerged on the eve of the censuses in 1980, 1990, 2000 and 2010, in part from a lack of steady leadership and management due to changes in Presidential administrations.
“The Constitutional duty of the United States Census Bureau is primarily a scientific one,” Congressman Dent said. “Successfully enumerating a population as large and diverse as ours is a difficult but critical task, one which must not be tainted by partisan politics. It is vital that the work of dedicated Census Bureau employees is not affected by whichever party controls the White House. The bipartisan Census Oversight Efficiency and Management Reform Act will provide greater transparency and accountability to ensure that the Census Bureau has the resources to provide a count that is truly fair and accurate.”
“Census data are used not only by government agencies, but by the private sector as well,” Congressman Dent added. “Businesses use demographic data provided by the Census Bureau to make sensible decisions about how and where to allocate capital and expand their activities.”
“The current census seems to be on a path to success, but just a few years ago it was threatened with failure-- and only last minute changes and corresponding major spending saved it. Some would say that having press conference about the 2020 census before the 2010 census is done is jumping the gun, but now is precisely the time when we need to start making sure that the 2020 census does not experience the drama that each of the last four censuses from 1980 to today have experienced. The career professionals at Census know what needs to be done, but Congress must act now so that we can save money and maintain accuracy and ensure that we have a no-drama 2020 Census,” said Rep. Maloney.
“Even as we are working diligently to ensure that the 2010 Census will be as successful as possible, it is important to start looking ahead to the 2020 Census,” said Sen. Carper, Chair of the Senate Subcommittee that has jurisdiction over the Census. “Clearly, there are lessons that we have learned from previous Censuses that can be used to modernize the Census Bureau and improve and enhance our efforts in the 2020 Census and beyond. This legislation will implement some key changes that will make the Census more accountable, less partisan, less costly and ultimately more effective.”
“A job as massive as the Census means starting the planning even before the previous survey is done. Any major improvement requires research and testing years in advance. All of us who have been Census Directors, regardless whether Democratic or Republican, have experienced the Commerce Department delaying budget requests too long to enact even money-saving improvements because the Department had higher priorities for their budget than a census several years down the road,” said Dr. Martha Farnsworth Riche, Director of the Census Bureau under President Clinton (1994-1998).
“In addition to the extensive, decade-long preparatory activities for the Decennial Census, as the Nation’s largest general purpose statistical agency, the Census Bureau has other major statistical responsibilities in the years that intervene between Decennial Censuses. Those activities include producing the nation’s ongoing economic monitoring measures. The priorities that are required to meet this broad responsibility sometimes conflict with the priorities of the Commerce Department. This bill strikes a balance in keeping the Bureau within the Commerce Department while allowing it to more effectively and efficiently meet its broader requirements as the Fact Finder for the Nation,” said Dr. Vincent P. Barabba, Census Director under Presidents Nixon, Ford, and Carter (1973-1976; 1979–1981).
The bill comes as the country is in the midst of returning their current census forms, drawing attention to the fact that just over two years ago, there were serious last-minute census design changes that threatened a successful, cost-efficient 2010 Census.
All seven living former Directors of the U.S. Census Bureau, including those who served under both Republican and Democratic Administrations, have endorsed the Census Oversight, Efficiency and Management Reform Act. Those former Census Directors include Vincent P. Barabba (1973-1976; 1979–1981), John G. Keane (1984-1989), Barbara Everitt Bryant (1989–1993), Martha Farnsworth Riche (1994-1998), Kenneth Prewitt (1998–2001), Charles Louis Kincannon (2002-2008), and Steven H. Murdock (2008-2009).
Key Provisions of the Legislation Include:
• Gives the Director the independence to report directly to the Secretary without being required to report through any other official at the Commerce Department.
• Requires that any testimony or legislative recommendations from the Census Bureau to Congress come directly from the Bureau and are not altered by the Commerce Department or the White House.
• Makes the Director of the Census Bureau a Presidential term appointment of five years, with the 10 year decennial cycle split into two, five-year phases - planning and operational, thus creating continuity across administrations.
• Gives the Director full authority over the Bureau’s personnel and grants him or her authority to establish advisory committees.
• Requires that the Census Director provide budget information to Congress, at the time the Director submits a budget request to the Commerce Secretary to be included in the President’s budget request, prior to the Commerce Department’s budget request submission to OMB, increasing transparency and oversight.
• Requires the Director to submit to Congress a comprehensive annual report on the next decennial census, with a description of the Bureau’s performance standards and a risk-assessment of each significant decennial operation.
These reforms will enable the U.S. Census Bureau to be responsible and accountable to Congress and the Executive for its successes and failures.