Just as MyTwoCensus was reporting live from Washington about the Robert Groves’ confirmation hearing, The New York Times published an unsigned staff editorial titled, “Building a Better Census Bureau.” Here it is:
After years of mismanagement by the Bush administration and months of fumbles by the Obama team, the Census Bureau may be getting back on track for the 2010 count. On Friday, the Senate is scheduled to hold a confirmation hearing for Robert M. Groves, President Obama’s superb nominee to run the bureau.
A University of Michigan sociologist and a leading authority on survey methodology, Mr. Groves served as the bureau’s associate director from 1990 to 1992. With the 2010 census less than a year away — and at high risk of failure — the Senate should quickly confirm this top-notch nominee so he can get to work.
Congress also must do more to revitalize the bureau, which has long suffered from inadequate financing and political meddling and, as a result, weakened leadership.
A bipartisan bill pending in the House would help resolve those problems. It would take the Census Bureau out of the Commerce Department and establish it as an independent agency, akin to NASA or the National Science Foundation. It would also extend the bureau director’s term to five years so that census preparations are not upended by the presidential election cycle.
Seven former bureau directors from both parties have signed a letter in support of the measures. The census is a 10-year project, they noted. But as part of the Commerce Department, it is subject to budget decisions that change annually, resulting in chronic underfunding, especially in the project’s crucial planning phase.
The former directors also asserted that Congressional oversight would be improved if the Census Bureau were independent and could deal directly with Congress. Independence would also put bureau officials in a stronger position to push back against undue meddling by the White House or Congress, such as attempts to politicize hiring decisions or spin scientific data.
The census is vital to democracy — and to American citizens. It is used to decide the number of representatives from each state, draw Congressional districts and allocate federal aid. It and other bureau surveys also supply the underlying data for an array of government statistics on education, crime, health and the economy.
To do its important job well, the Census Bureau needs a strong leader, like Mr. Groves, and it needs to be an independent agency.