Last month, Vice President Al Gore told thousands of members of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People that the debate over the 2000 Census was about race, not methodology. It was a simple and irresponsible statement, meant to raise old enmities and stereotypes rather than thoughtful discussion. Had he chosen the high road, though, Gore would have been forced to address something totally new: the administration's plan for Census 2000.
Less than two years from now, the Clinton administration proposes - for the first time ever - to blend estimates and actual counts into a single population number for the decennial census. That mixed bag of counted and estimated people will determine the allocation of more than $182 billion in federal funds to the states. If the Census Bureau chooses to disregard current law and implements its plan to produce this one-number census, the ability of states and localities to legally challenge the results will be severely compromised.As an example, in 1990, an entire ward was missed in one town in U.S. Rep. Tom Petri's district in Wisconsin. Community leaders found and corrected this mistake during the post-census review. For 2000, the bureau does not plan a post-census review - removing from states and localities both an avenue to legal remedy and a chance to correct mistakes.
That concerns me, both as a former mayor of Cincinnati and as co-chairman of the Census Monitoring Board, a federal, bipartisan oversight board reviewing Census 2000. In this extremely fast-moving process, I am concerned that decisions are being made, and actions taken, without substantial input from some of the most important players in the census process - specifically, state and local leaders, and Gore should be especially concerned with two things:
- The Master Address File, the address list used to mail census forms across the country, is likely to be inaccurate in many poor and rural areas, as well as high-growth areas, regardless of their racial makeup.
- Currently, there is no plan to conduct a post-census review after Census 2000. In 1990, the post-census review "found" more than 47,000 people in and around Detroit - almost all of whom were minorities. After 2000, cities will be stuck with the number the bureau calculates.
Last week, the board heard from local officials in Columbia, S.C., who reported several examples in the recent census dress rehearsal where the bureau was unresponsive.
Columbia's Community Development director said, "One of the things that we ran into with the Census . . . is that it's easy to say one thing but do another. For example, this idea of, `We're going to use multiple resources.' But, in fact, they used singular resources in the dress rehearsal."
South Carolina had a number of resources available - more than most states. For one, the state has one of the leading address data-base programs in the country. Jack Maguire, a state database expert, testified that South Carolina officials found more than 26,600 addresses missing from the Census Bureau's Master Address File.
If the bureau and Mr. Gore follow through with their plan to throw out the post-census review, states and localities would lose that avenue to appeal. With limited local input on the front end, and no review on the back end, state and local governments would be effectively shut out of the process.
That must not happen. In the words of Mr. Maguire, "If it comes to accurate data and precise data and data that makes a difference, the feds are the furthest away. And states are a little closer, but the local government is where it happens."
The U.S. House of Representatives recently passed an appropriations bill that provides for a review of this and other major changes planned for the 2000 census. The bill would buy time for a review without shutting down all other federal agencies funded by the same bill. President Clinton has threatened to veto it.
As a former mayor and undersecretary of HUD, I know and believe in the power of local government. I also believe the U.S. House of Representatives did state and local government a service by providing for our review of major changes planned for the 2000 Census - changes that could have major repercussions in neighborhoods of every color. On the other hand, I believe Gore did us all a disservice by playing the race card.