Last time the U.S. Census Bureau was in the news it was a source of heated debate - an alleged lynchpin in Sen. Judd Gregg's decision to resign as the Obama administration's nominee for Commerce Secretary. Now, with Census Day less than thirteen months away, the Bureau is once again the subject of serious scrutiny.
Reports released yesterday by the Government Accountability Office show critical preparations for the 2010 census are behind schedule and the Bureau lacks a clear strategy for improving outreach to undercounted minorities. The GAO concludes that the Bureau has insufficient policies and procedures and inadequately trained staff for conducting the decennial count.
In response, Sen. Tom Carper (D) of Delaware used a subcommittee hearing Thursday to call attention to what he believes is an approaching "state of emergency":
The bureau has faced many operational and organizational challenges that have jeopardized its success. These challenges include under funding for outreach to minority comunities and the colossal mismanagement and failure of the contract for handheld computers that led to an entire re-plan of the census very late in the game. Further, I understand that the Bureau lacks plans for testing some of its key information technology systems. With such a substantial reliance on new technology, a robust testing strategy is necessary to identify and correct any problems that may arise.
Carper went on to urge President Obama to name a new Census Bureau director as soon as possible. Sen. John McCain joined Carper in asserting that "a fair and accurate counting is critical, and no state should be denied representation or funding for essential services." The stakes of the 2010 count could not be higher: the cost of the census has escalated to an estimated $14 billion, making it the most expensive in census history, and it will have a significant influence in the redrawing of congressional districts and the distribution of federal funds.