Statement of the Hon. Carolyn B. Maloney Hearing on the Status of Census 2000 Operations
Thank you Mr. Chairman.
Census Day may be eighteen days away, but the Census has begun. Almost 100 million questionnaires are in the mail and 22 million more are being delivered by hand in rural areas. I received mine yesterday and I urge all Americans to fill out their questionnaire and mail it back.
As has been the case in our recent hearings, the news on preparations for the Census is good, a point which can easily be lost in the details of a hearing. But if we look at the forest and not the trees, things are going well. Particularly noteworthy is a new USA Today/CNN/Gallup Poll out just yesterday in which 96% of the respondents say they will mail back their questionnaires. I doubt it will be that high, but that is certainly an important indicator of the all-important mail response rate, and it's very good news.
Beyond that, and as the testimony today shows, things are on track. All 520 offices are open and running. Though there are localized problems, recruiting is actually ahead of schedule nationwide - at about 75% of the total needed. The questionnaires - all 120 million - are printed and actually being delivered by U.S. Post Office and Census Bureau personnel even as we speak. As Director Prewitt has emphasized, unexpected problems could develop tomorrow, but as of today, things are running well.
At our hearing last week, the issue of appropriate access of oversight entities to Census 2000 activities and information was a major point of discussion. I do not want to belabor those issues, but I do want to clarify the record on a couple of points.
First, the General Accounting Office and the Census Bureau were well on their way toward reaching an agreement regarding GAO's access to Bureau information before our last hearing. If this fact had been clear to all concerned, I think much of the discussion we had could have been avoided. There was not last week, nor is there today, a disagreement over access between the Bureau and GAO. I'll let Mr. Mihm speak for himself, but I understand that all of these issues have been resolved. I also suspect that in a project of this size, scope, and complexity, it is normal to have differences that need to be worked out over the mechanics of a review.
Second, the guidelines on oversight which the Bureau has implemented were sent to the oversight bodies on December 16, 1999, almost three months ago. As best I can tell, they represent the continuation of policies which have been in place for over two years and I'm somewhat surprised that they have become an issue this late in the process. If there was a problem with these guidelines, and they are only guidelines, it should have been addressed long ago. Mr. Chairman, you have raised concerns about the access of our own staff, and that of the Census Monitoring Board, to field offices. While I would note that similar visits never happened during the 1990 Census, they may have some value. But it is also important to understand that GAO and the Inspector General's staff are highly trained auditors and evaluators, working under strict professional standards and their own guidelines on how to conduct themselves in the field. Although these agencies act in a strictly non-partisan manner, I have real concerns regarding the conduct of the Monitoring Board staff given their activities in the field to date and the fact that they are not subject to any similar guidelines for their conduct.
I know that the Chairman mentioned his concern regarding the need for representatives of the regions or headquarters staff accompanying subcommittee staff on their visits to Local Census offices, I just want to point out that this is far from unusual. The Chairman and I both liken the census to a military operation and I think that is a good analogy. I just want point out that when Members of Congress or their staff go into the field to visit military installations they are usually accompanied by half of the pentagon, so I do not think it is unusual or inappropriate to have representatives accompany our staff. I know my staff has found the presence of regional staff helpful in understanding the Census operations, since many times they can answer questions that the local office staff cannot.
I do want to complement the Chairman on his idea of getting all of the principals together from the Monitoring Board, Co-Chairs Ken Blackwell and Gil Casellas; the GAO, Mr. Mihm and perhaps Mr. Walker, the Commerce Inspector General Mr. Frazier and ourselves to personally resolve any issues of access to information that remain. As you know, this is exactly what Director Prewitt suggested in his letter of August 26th of last year to you, in which he expressed his concerns regarding the demands of various oversight bodies and their impact on the Bureau's ability to conduct the Census. I would like to put that letter in to the record, and also Director Prewitt's letter of February 8th to Co-Chairs Blackwell and Casellas asking for a meeting to ensure that their information requests were met. These hardly seem like the actions of someone trying to "hide something." Even if these issues are settled at a staff level, I think a meeting of the principals could be very useful for all concerned, and personally am ready to attend such a meeting.
Mr. Chairman, while we are reviewing the issue of oversight I want to pose a question. What are the oversight goals of this committee with respect to the Census? Oversight to what end? Are we here to try to make this census better? To develop plans for the next Census in 2010? If we are here to try to make sure this Census is the best it can be, then why hasn't the Subcommittee responded to the major recommendations GAO had in their December report? The GAO gave us some concrete statutory steps to improve the pool of possible enumerators, which you have pointed out is still a concern in some small pockets around the country. I know that you strongly supported Ms. Meeks bill, HR 683, which would have allowed current welfare recipients to receive their benefits and work for the census at the same time but the Majority Leader has refused to bring it to a vote on the floor. I also know that recruitment is still a concern in the LCOs in both our districts. I think responding to the GAO suggestions incorporated in my bill, H.R. 3581, would make sense. If this Subcommittee is committed to constructive oversight we should act on those recommendations. Of course the alternative to constructive oversight is to use it to play "Gotcha" with the Census in a continuing effort to try to stop the use of modern statistical methods.
Thank you Mr. Chairman.