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Former Census Directors Offer a Head Count Primer

By Ed O'Keefe

If you think the U.S. Census Bureau sits around waiting to count Americans between the years ending in zero, you're wrong, according to two former bureau directors.

Louis Kincannon
Dr. Louis Kincannon served as U.S. Census Bureau director from 2002 to 2008.

“Every Census has about a 15-year cycle," Dr. Martha Farnsworth Riche, who served as director in the mid-1990s, said today. "When I left the Census Bureau in 1998, I was already planning the 2010 Census. And it will end in 2013 when they do the final analysis and close the books."

Dr. Louis Kincannon, who ran the bureau from 2002 to 2008, concurred noting that he helped put the finishing touches on next year's Census.

“Extensive testing was conducted throughout the decade, both field tests where you did complete operations and defined geographic areas, and a final dress rehearsal in Fayetteville, N.C. where you really tried to do everything the way you [actually would do it]," he said.

The former directors spoke during a conference call with reporters organized by The Census Project, a nonpartisan group concerned with the operation and funding of the decennial headcount.

While both expressed confidence that the bureau is ready for next year, Kincannon cautioned that last spring's decision not to use specially-designed handheld computers during follow-up interviews with Americans who fail to return their Census questionnaires will raise the final operational costs.

As for Republican concerns about how the Obama administration will oversee next year's Census, Farnsworth Riche suggested "an inexperienced person probably made a statement that he or she wouldn’t make now, knowing a little bit more about it."

The Obama administration has yet to appoint a new Census director, but Dr. Kenneth Prewitt, who served as director from 1998 to 2001, is a leading candidate for the job, according to an administration official.

By Ed O'Keefe  | February 24, 2009; 4:27 PM ET
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National Review, a neocon rag, has said no formulas only counting heads will do to get the true count. I would be happy to pay time and a half to their writers to canvas south central LA, southern Phila., southern blvd in the Bronx for a week as long as they sign a waiver for suing for injury. Obama will redistrict in the Dems favor if he is given control over census. He is by far the best politician Dems have had in years concerning control of the Senate, House and executive. Republicans tried to play hardball on stimulus, Obama slapped them upside of the head with the census takeover.

Posted by: jameschirico | February 25, 2009 10:43 AM | Report abuse

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