Census To Get Authority Over Data

Wednesday, June 14th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) — The head of the Census Bureau would be given the final say over whether to release politically sensitive sampled population data from this year's count, according to a Commerce Department proposal that Census officials said would be announced Wednesday.

The statistically adjusted data from Census 2000 could dramatically affect the way congressional and state legislative lines are redrawn next year. The authority to release that data currently lies with the commerce secretary.

The proposal will officially be announced at a news conference Wednesday, Census Director Kenneth Prewitt said Tuesday night.

``This makes the process transparent,'' Prewitt said. ``This makes sure there is no partisan intent on how we conduct the census.''

In general, Republicans oppose sampling, which Prewitt has said he favors. Supporters of sampling believe it will help account for portions of the population missed in previous counts, including minorities and inner-city residents who historically vote Democrat.

The Census Bureau is part of the Commerce Department. Both Daley and Prewitt were appointed by President Clinton, and may not be in their positions by early next year, when the decision to release sampled data must be made.

The proposal could become a formal regulation by September, following a public comment period, Census spokesman Steve Jost said.

Last year, the Supreme Court ruled that the reapportionment of congressional seats must be made using raw, or nonsampled data. It left open the possibility for states to use sampled data when redrawing state and congressional district boundaries.

Nonsampled data is due to President Clinton by Dec. 31. If released, sampled data would be released by next April.

GOP leaders, in general, fear sampled data could skew those political boundaries to Democrats' favor.

Chip Walker, spokesman for Rep. Dan Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House Government Reform Committee's census panel, called the proposal ``politics as usual.''

``We don't think this changes things at all because all it does is move the decision-making process from one political appointee to another,'' Walker said.

But despite the proposal, Jost said there was no guarantee that sampled data would be released. Prewitt said the proposed policy change removes partisanship from the decision-making process because it is put into the hands of ``technical experts and career statisticians'' not concerned with political outcomes.

In addition, the next president will appoint the next heads of the Commerce Department and Census Bureau. So, if presumptive Republican nominee George W. Bush should win the presidency in November, he would have the power to change the decision.

``George Bush, if he wanted to, could repeal the regulation and take away the authority that this administration is delegating to the career professionals at the Census Bureau,'' said Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., the subcommittee's ranking Democrat. ``If he wants to do that, that's going to be one hell of a Kodak moment.''

The Census Act states that the commerce secretary has the power to delegate the authority over ``whether it is feasible to release'' sampled data, said Jost, the Census spokesman. That power was taken away following the last census, in 1990, from the census director's office by the then-Republican commerce secretary, he said.

``The proposed decision returns to that prior long-standing precedent which was changed in 1990,'' Jost said.