The U.S. Census Bureau, an independent agency?
Today, as first reported by The Washington Post, House Democrats will unveiled a that would separate the U.S. Census Bureau from the Commerce Department and make it an independent government agency similar in design to the National Institutes of Health or NASA. “After three decades of controversy surrounding the decennial census, the time has come to recognize the Census Bureau as one of our country’s premier scientific agencies and it should be accorded the status of peers such as NASA, the National Institutes of Health, and the National Science Foundation,” Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), the bill’s lead sponsor, said in a statement.
If passed, the bill would not take effect until 2012, after the completion of the next census. It also would grant the presidentially appointed census director a full five-year term. All of the living former census directors support the bill, saying the collection and analysis of census data should be protected from bureaucratic stress and political scrutiny.
Kenneth Prewitt, who served as census director from 1998 to 2001 and is a leading candidate to serve again, wrote in a 2003 memo that bureau staff occasionally felt “under siege” from political attention and that such concerns “occupied management time that might otherwise have focused on the job at hand.”
The legislation, first introduced by Maloney in 2007, is also sponsored by Republican Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA), but it faces opposition from others in the GOP, who are concerned that the Census Bureau has not resolved management issues, including its decision to forgo the use of specially developed handheld computers during next year’s head count. “Simply turning a troubled agency loose at this time is not the answer,” said Frederick Hill, spokesman for Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the ranking member on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.