Lawmaker faults 16 census offices

Wednesday, July 26th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Bureau leaders say irregularities don't mean counts were rushed

A congressional subcommittee chairman said Tuesday that the Census Bureau should review its counts in 16 offices where irregularities could have jeopardized the accuracy of the population tally.

U.S. Rep. Dan Miller, R-Fla., said that despite the bureau's description of this year's count as a "good census," questions remain about the quality of the 2000 census. He said census workers have contacted members of the House census subcommittee about pressures from managers.

Some workers reported that they were ordered to lie or falsify questionnaires in the rush to finish the count, Mr. Miller said. Some complained about shifting deadlines and an obsession with finishing the census quickly, he said.

"You hear a noise behind the door. You have to open up the door to see what it is," said Chip Walker, a spokesman for the subcommittee. "We want to see what the bureau does to assure us that there are not problems at these local census offices."

Of the 510 local census offices in the United States, Mr. Miller identified 16 in 12 states where numbers suggest possible fraud or flawed procedures in the count. None of the 32 offices in Texas was on the list.

Census officials disputed assertions that individual problems show the population count was rushed. Some employees were competitive about completing their work, but they operated out of pride rather than fear or malice, said Steve Jost, a Census Bureau spokesman.

Mr. Jost said the bureau's quality control measures have identified potential problems with the count in only four local offices. He said census workers are trying to correct minor irregularities in Chicago, Marion County, Ind., and Rockville, Md.

Census director Kenneth Prewitt also ordered a complete recount of the area covered by the local census office in Hialeah, Fla. Mr. Jost said that was the only office the agency discovered that had "systematic problems."

Of the four offices identified by census officials as having problems, only Rockville was not on Mr. Miller's list.

"We've been on top of all of these issues for months," Mr. Jost said. "We feel this is a good census."

Mr. Jost said the Census Bureau will examine all of the offices Mr. Miller identified. The census subcommittee's top Democrat, Rep. Carolyn Maloney of New York, said she doubts officials will find major problems.

"After reviewing the documents provided carefully, I have seen no evidence of widespread fraud," Ms. Maloney said.

Census numbers are used to determine government funding and representation. Most 2000 census data will be released next spring.