Republicans Continue to Hammer White House Over Census
House Republicans will hold a news conference today to announce the formation of a census task force as they continue to urge President Obama to reconsider his plans to have the director of the Census Bureau report to senior White House staffers.
They asserted in a letter to the president yesterday that the proposal is an "unprecedented politicization of the Census" that would "open the door to massive waste and abuse in the expenditure of taxpayer funds, billions of which are distributed on the basis of Census data." (See the full letter after the jump.)
The administration announced its decision last week to have the Census director report to the commerce secretary and White House senior staffers as minority groups raised concerns about Obama's nomination of Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) to serve as commerce secretary.
“As they have in the past, White House senior management will work closely with the Census Director given the number of decisions that will need to reach the President’s desk," White House spokesman Ben LaBolt said in a written statement. "This administration has not proposed removing the Census from the Department of Commerce and the same Congressional committees that had oversight during the previous administration will retain that authority.”
Republicans disagree with the White House's assertion that previous Census directors have worked closely with White House staffers, writing that "There is no legitimate historical precedent for placing the nonpartisan, apolitical Census Bureau under the control of political operatives on the White House staff.”
But in an e-mail, Kenneth Prewitt, who served as Census director from 1998 to 2001, said he worked with White House staff during the 2000 national headcount.
"Issues included budgeting, the advertising campaign, strategies for recruitment of enumerators, etc. Scientific and technical decisions were made solely by the Census Bureau, according to well-established principles and practices of statistical independence. I am confident these principles will prevail in the 2010 Census."
Prewitt said he never met with anyone "more senior than a deputy chief of staff, except once when I met with the entire cabinet on how each member could assist in the large outreach effort then underway."
Other Census directors said they had no White House contact.
"I worked with people in the Office of Management and Budget, namely the chief statistician, who is in the office of information and regulatory affairs," said Dr. Martha Farnsworth Riche, who served as director from 1994 to 1998. "I never met the president or anyone who worked in the White House.”
Barbara Everitt Bryant, who served as director during the 1990 Census, said her only contact with the White House was through the Commerce Department. Still, "I would have liked a little of the bully pulpit help, because one of the big things is just to get everyone to answer the questionnaire. The president would have a lot more clout on that than anything we could have done at the Census bureau."
The current president and Democratic colleagues seem to agree.
“If the president decides to have a new Census director report directly to him, that’s fine with me," said Rep. William L. Clay (D-Mo.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee that oversees the Census. Clay was briefed by the president and Emanuel on the decision during last weekend's House Democratic retreat in Williamsburg, Va. "President Obama represented an entire state, and before that a State Senate district that had a large number of hard-to-enumerate people. He personally understands how damaging an undercount can be to a community and to our nation as a whole."
And no matter what the president decides, "Whoever the new director is of the Census, they will have to hit the ground running," Clay said.
President Barack Obama
The White House
Washington, DC 20500
Dear Mr. President,
As Republicans who share a goal of a fair, accurate and trustworthy 2010 Census that counts every person, we are surprised and disappointed by reports that your administration is taking the unprecedented step of moving control of the Census Bureau and the 2010 Census from the Commerce Department to political operatives on the White House staff. We are writing to register our grave concerns about this change, which would result in the unprecedented politicization of the Census and open the door to massive waste and abuse in the expenditure of taxpayer funds, billions of which are distributed on the basis of Census data. We respectfully request that you reconsider and reverse this controversial and harmful course of action.
As noted on the U.S. Census Bureau’s own website," Census data are used to distribute Congressional seats to states, to make decisions about what community services to provide, and to distribute $300 billion in federal funds to local, state and tribal governments each year.” Placing the Census under the control of political operatives in the White House will inevitably corrupt the independence of all of these critical Census functions, and could result in a dramatic increase in abuse and misallocation of taxpayer funds at a time when both parties should be working together to eliminate such waste.
There is no legitimate historical precedent for placing the nonpartisan, apolitical Census Bureau under the control of political operatives on the White House staff, let alone the former chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC). Doing so will, in fact, greatly undermine the goal of a fair and accurate Census count. The Census Bureau is staffed by experienced and talented professionals who are leaders in the field of statistics. In order to produce a fair, accurate and trustworthy count during the 2010 Census, the Census Bureau needs to remain an agency free from political or partisan interference.
This is a bipartisan goal. In fact, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) introduced legislation in September 2008 that specifically stated:
“The credibility and impartiality of data from a Federal statistical agency depends critically on whether the agency operates from a strong position of independence; therefore, the authority for conducting the decennial census of population and any economic or other censuses or surveys should be vested in an agency with a clear and well-defined position of independence.”
The importance of an independent Census was emphasized last year in a letter signed by every living former Census Director, appointed by both Democrat and Republican Presidents, in which they wrote:
“[F]ollowing three decades during which the press and the Congress frequently discussed the Decennial Census in explicitly partisan terms it is vitally important that the American public have confidence that the census results have been produced by an independent, non-partisan, apolitical, and scientific Census Bureau.”
After the 2000 Census, former Committee Chairman Waxman, former Minority Leader Dick Gephardt and former Democratic Caucus Chairman Martin Frost expressed their “hope that the Census Bureau did not suffer from inappropriate political pressure,” and went on to “urge the Bush Administration to allow the professionals at the Census Bureau to continue their work without interference.” Now, prior to the 2010 Census, we express our hope that the Census Bureau will not suffer from inappropriate political pressure. It is critical that we allow the professionals at the Census Bureau to continue their work without interference, and that we assure American taxpayers that the annual distribution of the $300 billion in federal aid based on Census data will not be squandered and tainted by partisan influence.
For these reasons, we respectfully request that you reconsider and reverse your administration’s plans to transfer control of the Census Bureau and the 2010 Census to the White House staff. A fair, accurate and trustworthy Census is essential and vital to the interests of all American citizens and taxpayers.
| February 12, 2009; 5:00 AM ET
Categories: Administration, Congress
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