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Locke Joins Census Bureau Outreach Efforts

By Ed O'Keefe
Gary Locke
Commerce Secretary Gary Locke at a White House event on Monday. (AP Photo by Gerald Herbert)

In his first official act as commerce secretary, Gary Locke urged the leaders of groups volunteering with the U.S. Census Bureau to increase their outreach efforts among the nation’s minority groups, noting the government has simplified the process in an effort to boost overall participation.

“It’s our job to let Americans know that taking part in the Census is important, easy and safe. Residents must know that their information is secure. That it’s illegal to share any information with anyone,” Locke said at an event sponsored by the Census Bureau to mark the one year countdown to next year’s census.

“Please let people know that the 2010 Census is very simple: 2010: ten questions, ten minutes. Completing the census form will be very very easy. For every Census form returned in the mail, it will save the federal government more money down the road."

The secretary’s appearance kicked off a meeting with leaders of companies including Coca-Cola, General Mills and Target and local community groups and civil rights organizations that will work with the bureau to boost participation levels for next year’s headcount. The decennial Census helps determine the distribution of at least $300 billion in federal funding and the number of Congressional seats allotted to each state.

Addressing concerns about potential political interference in next year’s census by the Obama administration, Locke said: "We’re going to make sure that the Census Bureau has the independent leadership it deserves and the professional oversight that Americans demand.”

Part pep rally, part training session, Census officials repeatedly stressed that next year’s census will succeed only if it’s backed by the reputations and good will afforded to local community groups that independently vouch for the importance of the headcount.

“A superb census will come about only if we get to those who today don’t plan to participate,” said Census Associate Director Arnold Jackson. He implored participating groups to help dispel rumors about the census, especially amongst Blacks or Hispanics concerned that Census employees may be working in concert with employees of the IRS or Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Participating companies and organizations said they have a vested interest in assuring their customers and members are counted.

Don Lowery, a vice president for public affairs with the Nielsen Company, reminded the audience that his company relies on Census information to help track television ratings. “Without the Census, there is no Nielsen. It’s vitally important to us.”

María Teresa Petersen, executive director of Voto Latino, said her group will rely on its network of online social media sites, radio talk show hosts and bloggers that helped boost Latino voter registration last year.

“There’s $300 billion on the table and when you’re talking about health care and infrastructure and improving the lives of families, that’s a reason to get involved,” she said.

Roughly 140,000 temporary Census Bureau employees will fan out across the country starting this week to account for every address on every American street, a process that continues through June. Early next year the bureau will launch a multimillion dollar advertising campaign across television, radio and the Internet to complement the efforts of corporations and community groups working to boost participation.

By Ed O'Keefe  | March 30, 2009; 3:05 PM ET
Categories:  Agencies and Departments  
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