My Two Census

Formerly the non-partisan watchdog of the 2010 US Census, and currently an opinion blog that covers all things political, media, foreign policy, globalization, and culture…but sometimes returning to its census/demographics roots.

Yesterday’s New York Times editorial is a farce and here’s why…

Yesterday, the New York Times ran the following editorial:

The 2010 census, in its final stages, has apparently been a success — something not thought possible just a couple years ago, when unsteady management, political interference and other problems threatened to derail the effort. The count was salvaged only after last-minute scrambling and major new spending — and after new leaders were put in place by the Obama administration.

For a time, it seemed as if Congress would learn the lessons from the near disaster of 2010. In March, a bipartisan group of House and Senate lawmakers introduced a bill to improve the census, mainly by giving the bureau director more power to run the agency without interference. In April, the Senate committee in charge of the census unanimously passed the bill. The bill has not gone anywhere since then.

Why does that matter, when the next count is a decade away? The best chance for passing a bill is now, when public awareness of the census is high. And the sooner reform is passed, the better, because census planning, done right, is a decade-long project.

The administration, which had to rescue the current census, should certainly know that. But it is the administration that appears to be standing in the way.

At a hearing this spring, one of the bill’s co-sponsors, Senator Thomas Carper, Democrat of Delaware, said that Commerce Secretary Gary Locke had complained about a provision giving the director greater independence to communicate directly with the commerce secretary and Congress about problems with the census. He said Mr. Locke also objected to giving the director greater influence over the bureau’s budget.

Mr. Carper suggested that independence to communicate was nonnegotiable, but a compromise on the budget could be found. There is no sign of progress.

In the next few weeks, Mr. Carper’s staff will issue a report on the bill to help other senators as they consider the legislation. The bill is a brief 11 pages and it is uncontested, at least on Capitol Hill. How much help do the other senators really need?

Mr. Carper should speed up the report. If the administration still has problems with the bill, it should make them public and allow the process to move forward openly. Basic reform of the census is needed, and the time to make those changes is slipping away.

MyTwoCensus analysis:

The first part of this editorial labels the 2010 Census a “success” but never states why it is considered as such. Perhaps this is based on the cursory observation of the participation/response rates that were similar to those of 2000. This may be a “success” when taking a quick glance at figures, but let us remember that the Census Bureau’s budget for 2010 was infinitely larger than it was in 2000. (And it took home an extra $1 billion in funding from the stimulus package.)

The second half of this disjointed editorial has a bit of validity, though it isn’t articulated well. Yes, it would be better for America for the Census Bureau Director to have a fixed term that ends in a year that is in between Presidential election years. But Gary Locke has legitimate concerns, and those must be addressed before rushing a bill through committee. The same Senate that can’t pass Climate legislation that’s been on the table forever shouldn’t be expected to jump on legislation related to the 2020 Census.

And here’s a little caveat/prediction for the New York Times: When the mainstream media learns just how much of a mess the 2010 Census was in some parts of the country, and in particular New York (where a dense concentration of media moguls and reporters utterly failed to cover the giant mess that is the New York regional census office) they will be begging for re-enumerations, recounts, and heads to be put on the chopping block. MyTwoCensus.com will elaborate more on this information in the coming days and weeks.

Note: An earlier version of this post questioned why President Obama hadn’t signed a bill seeking to reform the GOP’s “census” mailers. I referred to a blog post that I wrote on May 18, 2010. I subsequently learned from comments on this post that President Obama signed the bill on May 24. I was never made aware of this action by President Obama until today and I apologize for the confusion. Those people who refer to a bill from April should know that the GOP found a loophole in this legislation and continued to issue deceptive mailers. Furthermore, the comment about President Obama was just an aside from a post that focuses on many other important matters which I hope are not overshadowed by my simple error.

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