CONGRESS members invoke 1928 rule in seeking Census data

Tuesday, May 22nd 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Members of a Congressional reform committee have sued the U.S. government to gain the release of 2000 Census data they believe could affect the distribution of $185 billion in federal money.

The lawsuit, filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, was brought against Secretary of Commerce Donald Evans by 16 members of the House Committee on Government Reform.

It invokes the ``Seven Member Rule,'' a 73-year-old statute that gives any seven members of the House Committee on Government Reform special access to federal records. It is believed to be the first time the rule has been invoked in a lawsuit.

The White House did not immediately return a telephone call seeking comment.

The issue has political overtones, with Democrats seeking statistically adjusted census figures to make up for traditional undercounts of minorities, the poor and children.

Republicans have argued that adjusting the numbers through statistical sampling techniques would inject errors into a census that has been proven more accurate than the previous count.

Both parties agree that district lines drawn with adjusted data could add more minorities, which likely would mean the addition of more Democrats to voter rolls.

``The adjusted census data should have been released months ago,'' said Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., a plaintiff in the lawsuit. ``There is no valid reason for the Bush administration to withhold this data from members of Congress or the public.''

Committee members sent letters to Evans in early April seeking the release of statistically adjusted population figures for the 2000 Census. They filed the lawsuit after receiving no response, court documents said.

The Commerce Department, which oversees the U.S. Census Bureau, has been the target of several other lawsuits filed by cities and counties seeking the release of the adjusted data, including a federal lawsuit filed by officials in Los Angeles.

The Census Bureau has estimated a net national undercount of 1.2 percent of the country's 281 million people in the 2000 census, or about 3.2 million people. That amount is lower than the 1.6 percent undercount in 1990, which then missed about 4 million people.

In March the Commerce Department agreed with a recommendation by Census Bureau statisticians who concluded that raw numbers should be released instead of sampled data for official redistricting purposes.

The statisticians made their recommendation after finding discrepancies between adjusted data and other demographic surveys that could not be resolved before an April 1 deadline for releasing census figures.

A 1999 U.S. Supreme Court ruling bars the use of adjusted numbers for reapportioning Congressional seats, but such data could be used for local districting purposes and the disbursement of $185 billion in population-based federal grants.