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Posted at 7:00 AM ET, 12/10/2010

More independence for the Census Bureau?

By Ed O'Keefe

Eye Opener

Amid the flurry of activity on Capitol Hill this week, a bill passed the Senate that could soon bolster the U.S. Census Bureau's spot in the political pecking order.

Senators unanimously approved a bill this week that would give the Census director a five-year term overlapping the four-year presidential terms, setting the job on a timetable consistent with the ten-year cycle of planning and implementing the constitutionally-mandated decennial census.

The Census Bureau is one of several elements of the Commerce Department, and the bill would change the Census Bureau's reporting structure by having the top census official report directly to the commerce secretary, instead of lower-level assistant secretaries.

Finally, in a nod to lawmakers concerned about potential waste and mismanagement of the decennial census, the bill requires the Census Bureau to test and implement an online option for Americans to respond to the 2020 Census.

All seven living former census directors support the measure, which is sponsored by Sens. Thomas E. Carper (D-Del.) and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.).

"By working with our colleagues across the aisle, we were able to enact several common sense reforms that will strengthen the Census Bureau and enhance our ability to conduct a thorough, cost effective, and accurate Census," Carper said.

The bill "helps lay the groundwork for conducting cost-effective oversight that will give Congress and the densus director the ability to better manage this Constitutional responsibility," Coburn said.

The bill is likely to be considered next week before the scheduled conclusion of the lame-duck session, according to House Democratic aides. The lead House sponsor, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), had introduced legislation that would have established the Census Bureau as an independent agency, but the bill passed by the Senate is considered more politically viable.

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By Ed O'Keefe  | December 10, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Census, Eye Opener  
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