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GOP’s Beef with Census Goes Beyond Obama’s Latest Chicago Nominee

Like the constitutionality of the mandatory American Community Survey, which asks about everything from toilets to poor concentration.

by
Bill Straub

Bio

July 8, 2013 - 12:00 am
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WASHINGTON – Statistician John Thompson looks like a shoo-in to serve as the next director of the U.S. Census Bureau, but House Republicans are endeavoring to make the post he’s likely to assume significantly smaller in scope.

The nomination of Thompson, who spent more than 25 years with the bureau before leaving for the private sector 11 years ago, was announced by President Obama on May 23. A confirmation hearing is scheduled before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on July 9. If approved by the full Senate, Thompson will succeed Robert Groves, who resigned, and serve until Dec. 31, 2016.

“I think the president has made a wise choice in nominating Dr. John Thompson for this important position,” said Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), the committee chairman. “Dr. Thompson has a strong background in statistics and issues related to the census and if confirmed, he will bring a wealth of experience and service to his new role as director of the Census Bureau.”

The Census Project, an informal coalition of organizations that support the agency’s activities, encouraged lawmakers to quickly confirm Thompson “so that the bureau can continue serious planning for Census 2020.”

Thompson held several posts during his tenure at the Census, including serving as associate director for the 2000 decennial census and chief of the Decennial Management Division. He left to become executive vice president and later president and chief executive officer of the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, an organization perhaps best known for its involvement in the Florida Ballot Project, examining about 180,000 uncounted ballots in the contested 2000 presidential election in behalf of several news organizations. NORC’s participation occurred before Thompson joined the organization.

The Census, mandated by Article I, Section II of the U.S. Constitution, conducts a national population count every 10 years – the next will occur in 2020 – that is used in the reapportionment of seats in the House. It also conducts numerous other surveys that are used to allocate over $400 billion in federal funds every year.

“The Census Bureau regularly provides the government, business, and academia with an updated picture of who we are as individuals, communities, and a nation,” Carper said. “As one of the federal government’s few constitutionally mandated functions, the decennial census plays a central role in a number of issues ranging from determining how many seats each state gets in the House of Representatives to how hundreds of billions of dollars in federal assistance are allocated to state and local governments. Needless to say, finding and enumerating more than 300 million individuals is an extremely daunting task – one that requires years of careful planning, preparation, research, and, most of all, good leadership.”

Should Thompson be confirmed he will be taking the controls of a bureau that finds itself in transition. Carper noted the 2010 Census cost $14 billion, the most expensive count history. The cost has risen from $39 a household in 1990 to $70 in 2000 and $96 in 2010.

“At a time when the federal government is facing an unprecedented budget deficit, it is critical that we do what all that we can to ensure an accurate and cost-effective decennial census,” Carper said. “I appreciate Dr. Thompson’s willingness to tackle this challenge.”

Congressional Republicans have tried in the recent past to cut the bureau’s budget. The House-passed spending plan for fiscal year 2013, formulated by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), chairman of the House Budget Committee and the 2012 GOP nominee for vice president, proposed cutting the Census budget by $10 million below its 2012 appropriation and $91 million less than the bureau’s request. The plan failed to gain Senate approval.

Like other federal government agencies, the Census has fallen victim to sequestration, congressionally mandated across-the-board cuts imposed to address the nation’s budget deficit. The reductions arrive at a time when the bureau is attempting to develop new technologies to enhance data-collection efficiency, such as the creation of an online response system that is privacy protected.

But the biggest near-term wrestling match Thompson likely will find himself engaged in involves the American Community Survey, an ongoing assessment implemented in 2005 and sent to about three million addresses per year to gather information previously available only through the Census long form. Participation is mandatory and the penalty for failing to comply is a fine of up to $5,000.

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Top Rated Comments   
Ripping up the ACS and ignoring the resultant Census Bureau phone calls constituted my first act of civil disobedience. My family looked at me saying, "Can you do that?" Heck yeah! It felt good.
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
Given this Administrations nasty proclivities, if confirmed Thompson will want to conduct the census from a basement in Chicago using "statistical projections" and computer models. Yeah, we can trust those numbers, right, sure.

The Constitution says to count heads. Period. Social engineers and other fascist sonsabitches need not apply.
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
I got one of those last census. Told them I had an outhouse and 16 people living in a one bedroom shack. Oh, and I was a native american too. (I was born here, that makes me a native)
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (33)
All Comments   (33)
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This Census department has been demanding every financial detail possible about my business every 3 months and then another dozen page questionnaire at the end of every year - and they insist that I'm required by law to provide them with all of my private business information that is none of their business!
I have yet to find any organization that can help fight this.
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
Just don't report it. Make them work for it. And if you do report anything, give them made up data.
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
I am convinced that I got this disgusting invasion of my privacy questionnaire because I answered the race question on my census as "American"' (not to mention that I am not registered democrat).
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
And I refuse to answer it too!
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
We got the ACS for the first time this year. It was extremely unsettingling and Orwellian. We ignored the letters, and got more letters. We ignored those, and received hand-delivered notes on our doorstep several times from three different agents. We had numerous phone calls left on our answering machine, including one where the caller told us that he knew we were home when one of his agents had come knocking at our door and we had not answered. We were told numerous times that we would be reported to enforcement if we did not comply. I was stunned at the emotion and implied and direct threats in the calls and hand-written notes. We were called no less than 3 times the night of the "deadline", and although we felt personally defiant, my wife and I sat down to pray about whether to comply or not. I was very surprised that our prayer led us to the conclusion that we should "render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's." I had expected to be given the green light to refuse answering.
I called and agreed to answer a "modified" version of the survey, which consisted of the agent asking me every question and I would make an individual decision on which ones to answer. It was every bit as intrusive as the anecodotes mentioned here in the article, and more so because there are branches of questions when you answer affirmatively. Eventually we got to ending the questions when I pointed out we had already well exceeded the 10 minutes that I was promised.
It has been a continual grieving process for my wife and I to discover, a little bit at a time, how much has been lost in our country, not the least of which is the strong trust that I used to have in my government. Considering that my employment paychecks have come from the government for over 30 years, that is significant.
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
Wow, you got worse treatment than we did. We got daily phone calls, even Saturdays, for about a month (thanks, caller ID) and then nothing. Maybe it depends on how many troublesome non-responders they have at one time. Then again, maybe we're in the lull before the hammer falls....
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
The only thing mandated by the constitution is a head count. There is no constitutional reason to ask about race. I worked the 2010 census as an enumerator (the obnoxious person turning up on your doorstep if you didn't fill in and send off the form). The one thing we were specifically forbidden to ask was legal status. So illegal immigrants are counted as voting citizens for the purposes of districting. Which means that in areas of high illegals, it is in the politicians' interest to protect them, otherwise districts could be redrawn and they could lose their seat. Most people I interviewed were quite happy to tell me the number of people living in the household but after that most of them were obviously lying, and who could blame them? It's none of the government's business. I never received a form and when I questioned why my household was not on the list of properties to be visited, it turned out my form had been filled in by persons unknown and my household had grown from 2 to 6. The whole thing is corrupt from top to bottom.
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
I'll tell them how many people are living in my house if they let me include an addendum telling them how many illegal aliens are living in my neighbor's garage. The answer for the second question, by the way, varies between three and seven depending upon the season or if a new group of undocumented Democrats arrive and the old group moves on. But I have to get a permit if I want to lay a concrete path. Fugthiscountree.
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
I owned a home here in California in 2000 and never received a census form. I also did not receive one in 2010, nor did my elderly parents who live nearby receive one in 2010, and nobody ever knocked on our doors either.
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
I'm from the East Bay, as well, and I never once received one of those things.

I've lived in Virginia for 13 years and have received 2. Weird!
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
Wow. A $5000 fine if you don't fill out a census form? The dark clouds are darker than we think.
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
I received an ACS in 2010, I threw the first two surveys mailed to me in the trash. I next refused to answer the interviewer they sent out to the house, finally the exasperated interviewer conducted a phone interview with me and with the answer 'I feel uncomfortable with that question.' to all questions that was the end of that.
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
I got that ACS survey at a second home in rural Massachusetts, intimidated by the envelope message it was a crime to ignore (but not with a $5,000 fine!). I stopped filling it out due to the VERY intrusive questions.
Then they sent a second ACS.
Then they sent at least two postcards.
Then they called me, and when I protested about the intrusiveness, and the COST, and this is a second home, they finally put someone on the line to ask the eight questions that satisfied them (running water, indoor toilet).

So, PLEASE let me know exactly which legislation I need to support to stop this totally anti-Constitutional abuse of the Census.

Not that I plan on being alive in 2020. Medicare has designated me as 'unworthy of medical care' due to the new codes that sneaked into Medicare in 2010.
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
" Medicare has designated me as 'unworthy of medical care' due to the new codes that sneaked into Medicare in 2010. "

But of course, there are no "death panels", are there?
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
Ripping up the ACS and ignoring the resultant Census Bureau phone calls constituted my first act of civil disobedience. My family looked at me saying, "Can you do that?" Heck yeah! It felt good.
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
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