Sunday, October 18, 2009


No. 79

Proposal for New Census Questions Delays 2010 Commerce Funding Bill
GAO: "Noteworthy Progress" in Census Preparations, But Challenges Remain
Major Cities Lack Resources for Census Preparation, Study Finds
Stakeholders "Rock the Count!": Indian Country Counts; New Nonprofit Census Toolkit; and more.

House Members urge higher Senate funding level for 2010 count
GAO cites "noteworthy gains" in 2010 census preparations; tight timeframes still pose challenges

Pew report: Philadelphia census prep lagging; cities lack resources

Stakeholders "Rock the Count!": 'Indian Country Counts' launch; new toolkit available for nonprofits; and more


Former Census Directors warn of delayed census &"incalcuable" costs;
Vote on Vitter-Bennett amendment could come this week

The U.S. Senate failed to complete work last week on a massive funding bill that includes the Census Bureau, in large part because of controversy over an amendment that would require new questions on citizenship and immigration status in the 2010 census, according to both Democratic and Republican leaders. Democratic efforts to end debate on the bill failed earlier in the week, prompting the Majority Leader to accuse the amendment's primary sponsor, Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) of "injecting partisan politics into a debate that is already well-settled, at the cost of hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars." Sen. Harry Reid's (D-NV) spokesman, Jim Hanley, said in a statement (10/15/09) that, "Most mainstream Americans ... should be offended that Senator Vitter would mislead the American public about the important work that the Census is undertaking."

Sen. Vitter and Sen. Robert Bennett (R-UT) filed an amendment to the Fiscal Year 2010 (FY2010) Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations bill (H.R. 2847) on October 7 that would cut off funding for the upcoming decennial count unless the Census Bureau asks respondents if they are U.S. citizens or in the country lawfully. The sponsors said their intent is to exclude undocumented residents from the state population totals used for congressional apportionment. (See the October 9, 2009 Census News Flash #78 for a full explanation of the amendment and its potential consequences .)

A procedural vote to end debate on the Commerce appropriations bill (called a "cloture vote") failed on Tuesday, leading Democratic leaders to postpone further consideration of the measure until some time this coming week. The Majority Leader will likely try to close debate again, which requires 60 votes to pass. A successful "cloture" vote could put an end to consideration of the Vitter-Bennett amendment if the Senate Parliamentarian finds the proposal in violation of chamber rules regarding spending bills. Failure to invoke cloture means the Senate would proceed to consider all pending amendments.

Sen. Vitter said in a subsequent statement on the Senate floor that he would modify his amendment to require only a question on citizenship, if the proposal came up for a vote. The senator said he didn't believe any non-citizens should be counted in the census for purposes of allocating seats in Congress among the states, maintaining that states with smaller numbers of non-citizens should not be "penalized."

Sen. Thomas Carper (D-DE), chairman of the subcommittee that oversees the census, also filed an amendment aimed at mitigating the consequences of the Vitter-Bennett proposal. The Carper proposal would allow the Secretary of Commerce to reject any census questions that would prevent the Census Bureau from meeting the "constitutional mandate to count the whole number of persons residing in each State."

Former Census Directors weigh-in on consequences of last-minute census changes: Eight former Census Directors urged lawmakers not "to place a decade of careful and demanding preparations at risk" by adding new questions only months before the start of the decennial count. Appointed during both Republican and Democratic Administrations, the directors said that changing the census form now would entail redesigning and reformatting questionnaires, language assistance guides, and related materials; revising instructions and training manuals for census takers; rebuilding data capture and processing software; and overhauling the $400 billion communications campaign. The cost of such a "massive revision," the former agency heads warned, is "almost incalculable." Adding untested questions to the 2010 census "would put the accuracy of the enumeration in all communities at risk and would likely delay the start of the census and all subsequent activities," the directors wrote in a statement issued last week.

Federal law (13 U.S.C. §141(f)) requires the Census Bureau to submit to Congress the topics and actual questions it plans to include in the census, three and two years, respectively, before Census Day. No member of Congress objected to the content before the Census Bureau finalized the 2010 forms for printing.

The former directors' letter (reissued with additional signatures on October 16) is available on the Census Project web site at

"Late design changes" add cost and risk to census, GAO has observed: The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) also has warned about the risk of last minute changes to the census design, in reports to Congress over the decade. In 2004, GAO highlighted the importance of a "stable environment" in preparing for the census, to avoid "a repeat of the 2000 census when disagreement over the Bureau's methodology led to late design changes and additional costs and risks." (Cost and Design Issues Need to be Addressed Soon, GAO-04-37, 1/15/04) In testimony two years later, congressional auditors again cautioned that the Census Bureau must "stay on schedule, as the census is conducted against a backdrop of immutable deadlines and an elaborate chain of interrelated pre- and post-Census Day activities are predicated upon those dates. ... As Census Day approaches, the tolerance for any operational delays or changes becomes increasingly small." (Planning and Testing Activities Are Making Progress, GAO-06-465T, 3/1/06)

Justice Department opinion on constitutional apportionment mandate unchanged over time: Despite Sen. Vitter's contention that many states would "lose representation from what they would otherwise have if illegal aliens are counted in congressional apportionment," the U.S. Department of Justice has consistently held that the Constitution requires the census to include "inhabitants of States who are illegal aliens," according to a September 22, 1989, letter from Assistant Attorney General Carol T. Crawford to Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), then chairman of the census oversight subcommittee. The department's legislative affairs chief was responding to a query from Chairman Bingaman regarding the constitutionality of legislation to exclude undocumented residents from the census for apportionment purposes, introduced on the eve of the 1990 count. "[W]e have found no basis for reversing this position," Ms. Crawford, an appointee in the George H.W. Bush Administration, wrote.

Stakeholders urge opposition to Vitter-Bennett amendment: Dozens of stakeholder organizations working to achieve an inclusive census expressed their strong opposition to the Vitter-Bennett amendment, calling the proposal "unworkable," "unconstitutional," and "scientifically and operationally irresponsible and risky." The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, chairs of the Census Bureau's Race and Ethnic Advisory Committees (in their private capacities), NAACP, MALDEF, Japanese American Citizens League, Association of Public Data Users, and the ACLU were among those sending letters to the Senate. Almost 40 organizations representing a wide range of stakeholder interests also objected to the amendment in a letter organized by The Census Project, a nonpartisan coalition of groups advocating for an accurate 2010 count. The National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund issued a statement on Friday condemning what it said was "an unconstitutional and costly effort to suppress Latino participation in the decennial Census .

Senior Representatives urge House negotiators to accept higher census funding level: Senior members of the congressional minority caucuses, House Democratic leadership, and census oversight committee urged House appropriators to accept the higher level of funding for the Census Bureau included in the appropriations bill pending before the Senate, in anticipation of negotiations on a final bill.

In a letter to Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-WV) and Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, and Science, eight lawmakers said the Senate-committee approved $7.324 billion would "best prepare the Census Bureau for the 2010 Census." The House of Representatives approved $7.169 billion for the Census Bureau, $206 million less than the agency requested, which the letter noted would force the agency to "reduce its Contingency Fund, leaving the Bureau ill-prepared to handle any unforeseen events like natural disasters ... or pandemic illnesses." The lower funding level, the legislators wrote, would "increas[e] the risk of missing certain populations, or the risk of a major operational failure in conducting the 2010 Census."

Signing the letter were Reps. Mike Honda (D-CA), Steny Hoyer (D-MD), Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), William Lacy Clay (D-MO), Ed Towns (D-NY), Jose Serrano (D-NY), Henry Cuellar (D-TX), and Charles Gonzalez (D-TX).

After the Senate passes the appropriations measure, a House-Senate conference committee must iron out differences between the two versions of the bill. The Census Bureau and most other federal departments and agencies are currently operating under a short-term Continuing Funding Resolution, which expires on October 31.


Congressional auditors said the Census Bureau has made "noteworthy progress in mitigating risks and keeping the decennial on track," pointing to improved IT systems management and testing and completion of last spring's address canvassing operation ahead of schedule. In testimony before the Senate Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management, Government Information, Federal Services, and International Security on October 7, GAO Director of Strategic Issues Robert Goldenkoff also observed that the "2010 census remains a high risk area" because of tight timeframes for remaining work and "inherent uncertainties," including the public's willingness to cooperate. "[T]here are no timeouts, no do-overs, and no reset buttons" at this stage of the process, Mr. Goldenkoff emphasized.

Mr. Goldenkoff noted progress in end-to-end testing of data control and processing systems but said the short amount of time remaining will make it difficult for the Census Bureau to complete all recommended evaluation of key systems. The agency's 2008 decision to revert to a paper-based follow-up operation for unresponsive households led to late deployment of a system to track the enumeration's progress.

GAO also monitored the spring 2009 address canvassing, which auditors said most local census offices finished ahead of schedule because of "prompt resolution" of problems with GPS-equipped handheld computers and lower-than-expected attrition rates and more available work hours on the part of address listers. Preliminary evalulations show that the address verification work added 17 million addresses, marked 21 million for deletion (for example, a nonexistent address), and identified 4.5 million duplicate addresses on the original Master Address File of 141.8 million housing units, according to GAO. The early figures do not represent final actions taken with regard to the address list, as Census Bureau staff must review all possible changes to the list, and some local governments will have a final opportunity to appeal proposed modifications before the census starts. Mr. Goldenkoff noted, however, that the Census Bureau exceeded its estimated cost for address canvassing by 25 percent, or $88 million, bringing the total price tag to $444 million.

Fingerprinting of temporary employees for address canvassing was "problematic," GAO reported in its testimony, primarily due to unclassifiable prints that the FBI could not process. About 35,700 workers -- 22 percent of the 162,000 address list employees -- had unclassifiable prints, which GAO said was likely due to inadequate training and work environments for census staff tasked with obtaining fingerprints. The nearly 36,000 workers whose prints could not be processed were hired based on a name background check only, "consistent with FBI guidance." GAO said readable fingerprint checks identified about 1,800 applicants (1.1 percent of total hires) with criminal records that were not revealed by the name background check.

Census Director Robert Groves and Commerce Department Inspector General Todd Zinser also testified at the hearing to review the status of 2010 census preparations. A full set of testimony and statements is available on the subcommittee's web site at (We will report in more detail on the Inspector General's ongoing monitoring and evaluation of 2010 census operations in a future Census News Brief.)



Compared to 2000, many major U.S. cities have fewer resources to promote the 2010 census, and Philadelphia is less prepared than most to mount an effective 2010 census campaign, according to a new report from The Pew Charitable Trusts' Philadelphia Research Initiative. "Preparing for the 2010 Census: How Philadelphia and Other Cities Are Struggling and Why It Matters," examined preparations for the upcoming decennial count in eleven major cities, including the nation's six largest and five others with similarities to Philadelphia.

Almost all of the cities studied are devoting less money and fewer staff resources to promote the 2010 census than they did for Census 2000, the study found, leaving the municipalities to rely more on unpaid volunteers and community-based organizing. For example, Philadelphia, which committed $200,000 and raised an additional $165,000 from private donations to promote the 2000 count, has not appropriated public funds specifically for 2010 census activities; it will rely instead on existing resources and staff. Some local philanthropies, including the William Penn Foundation, are supporting the effort, as well.

Author Thomas Ginsburg, the Philadelphia Research Initiative's project manager, said in a statement that census preparations at the local level are important, "with very real ramifications that will be felt for the next 10 years." On the positive side, the researchers found, all of the cities studied are participating in key technical programs to lay the groundwork for the enumeration, most notably to help the Census Bureau ensure a comprehensive address list for mailing questionnaires and visiting unresponsive households. The Pew report is available on-line at


New House bill would add citizenship, legal status questions to census

House hearing to examine census address list issues

New House bill aims to prevent "distortions" in congressional apportionment: Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) introduced a bill to require people to provide their citizenship and and legal status in the decennial census, in order to "prevent congressional reapportionment distortions" by excluding all non-citizens from the population totals used to allocate House seats among the states. H.R. 3797 mirrors the intent of legislation offered last month (S. 1688) by Sen. Robert Bennett (R-UT). (See the September 20, 2009 Census News Brief #75 for background on S. 1688 .)

Rep. Foxx said in a statement that, "Accurately counting the number of illegal immigrants in our country is a matter of equity and justice for American citizens and those legally present in the U.S." H.R. 3797, referred to the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, currently has 16 cosponsors.

House subcommittee hearing will focus on census address list: The House Subcommittee on Information Policy, Census, and National Archives will hold a hearing on October 21 to examine the accuracy of the Census Bureau's Master Address File, the comprehensive list of all housing units in the country that is the basis for the decennial enumeration. The hearing will start at 2:00PM in Room 2154 Rayburn House Office Building.


American Indian leaders, Census Bureau launch full count campaign: Census Director Robert Groves joined leaders of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) in launching "Indian Country Counts," a campaign to promote the importance of census participation among American Indians and Alaska Natives. NCAI President Joe Garcia said census population numbers "will affect policy and human service programs for Native communities for generations to come" and that an accurate count of Indians is an important step "on the path to regaining our economic, social, and governmental strength as Native people."

At the October 12 event announcing the campaign, Dr. Groves signed a reaffirmation of the Census Bureau's first American Indian and Alaska Native Policy statement, saying the agency has a "very strong campaign to reach and inspire American Indians and Alaska Natives to participate in the census." NCAI, a member of the Census Bureau's 2010 Census Advisory Committee, is the nation's "oldest and largest organization representing tribal governments."

Other Native organizations supporting the "Indian Country Counts" campaign include the National American Indian Housing Council, National Indian Health Board, National Indian Child Welfare Association, and National Council on Urban Indian Health. Leaders of these groups noted the importance of accurate census data to address issues such as overcrowded housing, substance abuse and diabetes, and family and youth support programs.

Go to for more information on the "Indian Country Counts" campaign.

New toolkit available for nonprofits supporting the census: The Nonprofit Voter Engagement Network's NONPROFITS COUNT campaign has prepared a free toolkit to help organizations educate their constituencies about the importance of the 2010 census and promote participation. The toolkit features fact sheets in English and Spanish; sample questionnaires in seven languages; information about uses of census data; and multimedia resources. Nonprofits may order the toolkit on-line at

Civil rights coalition running census ads in buses: The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR) Education Fund launched a series of public service announcements on buses in six cities to educate residents about the upcoming 2010 census. LCCR President Wade Henderson noted that census information determines the allocation of more than $400 billion annually for health care, education, transportation, and other community services. The ads, running from October 5 - December 27 in Atlanta, Detroit, Milwaukee, New Orleans, San Francisco, and Seattle, highlight how an accurate census helps ensure equal representation and equal access to government resources for all communities. Some PSAs are translated into Spanish and Chinese.

New York State Senate launches 2010 census web site: The State Senate launched a web site to "help ensure all New Yorkers will be counted," according to a press release announcing the "Count Me In" campaign for the 2010 census. Senate Democratic leaders highlighted the use of census data in decision-making affecting jobs, schools, hospitals, health care, and affordable housing. Visit for information on the campaign.

Census News Briefs are prepared by Terri Ann Lowenthal, an independent legislative and policy consultant specializing in the census and federal statistics. All views expressed in the News Briefs are solely those of the author. Please direct questions about the information in this News Brief to Ms. Lowenthal at Please feel free to circulate this document to other interested individuals and organizations. Ms. Lowenthal is a consultant to the nonpartisan Census Project, organized by the Communications Consortium Media Center in Washington, DC. Previous Census News Briefs are posted at

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