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Bill Would Separate Census From Commerce Dept.

By Ed O'Keefe

House Democrats will unveil a measure Tuesday that splits the U.S. Census Bureau from the Commerce Department and makes it an independent government agency similar in design to the National Institutes of Health or NASA.

The proposal comes in the wake of Republican allegations that the Obama administration is attempting to politicize the census by giving White House aides responsibility for overseeing next year's headcount.

Administration officials stress that while the White House is expected to take part in advertising and community outreach related to the 2010 census, the census director will continue to report to the secretary of commerce.

But with so much at stake in the outcome of the decennial headcount, some House Democrats argue that the census should be insulated from any hint of political influence.

“After three decades of controversy surrounding the decennial census, the time has come to recognize the Census Bureau as one of our country's premier scientific agencies and it should be accorded the status of peers such as NASA, the National Institutes of Health, and the National Science Foundation,” Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), the bill's lead sponsor, said in a statement.

“This action will be a clear signal to Americans that the agency they depend upon for unbiased monthly economic data as well as the important decennial portrait of our nation is independent, fair, and protected from interference,” she added.

The data generated by the decennial headcount is used in determining the reallocation of congressional seats among the states and the state-by-state distribution of billions of dollars of federal funds. Next year's count, expected to cost between $13.7 billion and $14.5 billion, has earned considerable interest from minority groups concerned about potential undercounts of urban centers and the growing Hispanic population.

If passed, the bill would not take affect until after the completion of the next Census in 2012. It also grants the presidentially-appointed Census director a full five-year term. All living former census directors have supported the bill, saying that the collection and analysis of census data should be protected from bureaucratic stress and political scrutiny.

Dr. Kenneth Prewitt, who served as Census director from 1998 to 2001 and is a leading candidate to serve once again, wrote in a 2003 memo that bureau staff occasionally felt “under siege” from the political attention and that such concerns “occupied management time that might otherwise have focused on the job at hand.”

The legislation, first introduced by Maloney in 2007, is also sponsored by Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Tex.), but faces opposition from other Republicans concerned that the Census Bureau has not resolved management issues, including its decision to forego the use of specially-developed handheld computers during next year's headcount. Field tests of the devices raised concerns about their effectiveness, and the bureau decided to use them only during this year's address canvassing, or national verification of each place of residence.

“Simply turning a troubled agency loose at this time is not the answer,” said Frederick Hill, spokesman for Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the ranking member on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

The government has conducted a national census every ten years since 1790, and Congress established a permanent Census office in 1902. The office moved to the Department of Commerce upon its establishment in 1913.

By Ed O'Keefe  | March 2, 2009; 4:45 PM ET
Categories:  Administration, Congress  
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As long as Rahm Emanual's shop can keep a hand in, the Obama regime will be pleased.

Posted by: Tupac_Goldstein | March 2, 2009 5:32 PM | Report abuse

As long as the law doesn't take effect until after the current census is completed in 2012, the next census being in 2020 under a new president; as long as the bill aims to make it an independent agency; as long as all the prior census directors are supporting such a measure, and the bill has bipartisan sponsorship, I fail to see why there should be any opposition to it.

Posted by: pKrishna43 | March 2, 2009 8:48 PM | Report abuse

Uh... NIH isn't an independent agency. It's part of HHS ( ).

Posted by: mason08 | March 2, 2009 11:41 PM | Report abuse

I still dont get what the big deal is. Look, the census is done what..every 8-10 yrs or something like that? What goody info does this really do but for the year a census is done and made public and MAYBE a year or so after. Its not like it is done every other year. Maybe I am wrong, but I am a little sick and tired of this infighting. We supposedly voted for grown-ups, not toddlers.

The GOP is just sounding more and more like a bunch of whining babies. My god, if Obama did a #2 in his Presidential toilet-the GOP would complain that the color of Obama's #2 wasnt the color they wanted.

Posted by: davethewave1 | March 3, 2009 3:29 AM | Report abuse

We don't need more government, creating a separate government agency only adds to more turf fighting. Let the Commerce Department carry on. I have not heard any negative remarks that would justify making changes. If it works don't fix it.

Posted by: mmarroquin1 | March 3, 2009 9:34 AM | Report abuse

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