Statement of the Hon. Carolyn B. Maloney Hearing on the Status of Census 2000 Operations
Thank you Mr. Chairman. And welcome to our witnesses Dr. Prewitt, from the Census Bureau, and Mr. Mihm, from GAO. I've seen so much of you lately, it seems like we're becoming old friends.
April 1st, Census Day, was four days ago and major census operations are now underway. Though the most labor-intensive activities are yet to come, all signs now are good. The largest peace-time mobilization in our history is underway, and I salute Director Prewitt and the Census staff for an excellent job to date.
Right now, the key success indicator for the Census is the mail-back response rate -- how many households have mailed back their forms. As of today, that stands at 55%, or about 67 million households. That still leaves 45% of our nation's households that have not returned their forms, and I urge everyone who has not mailed their form back to do so today, right now.
At 55% however, it seems that the estimated response rate of 61% will be met. And I'm hopeful it might be exceeded. The Director has challenged the nation to reach 70%, and I hope think we might reach that mark. I don't want to sound too optimistic, but the hard work on the advertising campaign, partnerships, and other promotional activities appears to be paying off.
Other indicators are positive as well. Recruiting continues to go well, with the Bureau reaching its goal of 2.4 million qualified applicants by March 31, almost three weeks ahead of schedule. 25.5 million forms have already been scanned, with continued high accuracy.
Update/leave operations were successfully completed on schedule, almost 6 million phone calls have gone to the 800 number, and 58 thousand forms have been completed on the Internet.
The other night I went with Chairman Miller at four o'clock in the morning to watch the temporary employees that the Census has hired from the community count the homeless. It was incredibly impressive to see the dedication and commitment of this workforce operating in the middle of the night in difficult and often hazardous areas.
So, things are going about as well as could be expected operationally. Considering the doom and gloom of just a few months ago on both the hiring needs and the mail response rate, things are in fact going remarkably well. The two major concerns raised by GAO last December -- hiring and response rates -- are clearly on track.
Which makes the recent comments about the long form by senior Republicans all the more unfortunate. Clearly one contingency that GAO could not warn us about, are some of the irresponsible remarks that have been in the news lately by elected officials who should know better.
Let me make clear I am not referring to the Chairman of this Subcommittee. He has been a supporter of the Census and the long form throughout this latest turmoil.
But several prominent Republicans, including Senator Lott, Governor Bush of Texas, and J. C. Watts, Chair of the Republican Conference, have recently complained that the long form is too nosy. That it asks too many questions. Some of these individuals have even made public statements suggesting that the Americans should not complete their forms, despite the fact that refusing to complete these forms would be a violation of federal law.
I think these comments are outrageous, irresponsible, demagogary - pandering to fringe groups and the radio talk show circuit. They threaten the success of the Census by driving response down.
We have Members of Congress saying that they "believe in voluntarily cooperating" with the government but beyond that they won't follow the law. Since when did following the law in this country become a voluntary thing?
What is really disingenuous is the fact that most of the questions on the long form have been around for decades. In fact, Ronald Reagan signed off on every single question in the 2000 Census during preparations for the 1990 Census, except for one required this decade by Welfare Reform.
Over two years ago, as the content of the long and short forms was being finalized, every Member of Congress received this book, a detailed list of the questions to be asked, including a description of the need for asking it along with the specific legal requirements supporting it.
So this controversy, at this late date, strikes some as intentional sabotage. At the very least it is willful disregard for a successful Census. While it may not be intentional it clearly shows an ignorance of how incredible useful Census data is, and how much of a difference it makes in the lives of millions of Americans.
Let's look at the plumbing question the talk radio shows seem to focus on. Well it may shock some, but there are places in this country where Americans don't have plumbing - In the Colonias in Texas, on Indian reservations, and I dare say probably in rural communities in Mississippi.
Or lets look at question 17 concerning a person's physical, mental, or emotional condition in the last 6 months. Are some Members saying they don't want to know how big a problem this is? How many disabled Americans there are in this country? How many disabled Vets? And where there are high concentrations of them who need services.
It is my understanding that some of these leaders have started to moderate their comments. Well they shouldn't just moderate their comments, they should be in the forefront of urging all Americans to fill out their forms completely. They should be urging their members to join them in supporting the Census, all of the Census. Anything less is unacceptable. Unless they move quickly to fully support the Census we run the risk of irreparable harm.
And frankly, I am not only worried about the problems presented to response rates by this controversy. I'm also concerned about the welfare of the hundreds of thousands of Americans who will be going door-to-door in their neighborhoods in the coming weeks.
So today I am happy to hear things are going well. I sincerely hope they will continue to go well, despite the impact of this controversy over the long form. I look forward to hearing from Dr. Prewitt today on how he thinks this controversy will impact the Census effort. Thank you Mr. Chairman.