House lawmakers from both sides of the aisle want to extricate the Census Bureau from the Commerce Department as controversy grows over President Obama's plan to assert greater control of next year's national head count.
Reps. Carol Maloney, D-N.Y., Charles Gonzalez, D-Texas, Charlie Dent, R-Pa., and Jim Gerlach, R-Pa. introduced a bill Tuesday that would make the Census Bureau an independent agency before next year's census is taken. Maloney introduced a similar bill last year that would have made the agency independent after the 2010 Census. It drew the support of seven former Census directors.
"The Census Bureau's work is scientific: it requires careful, thoughtful planning by those who know how best to perform this huge undertaking. The work is too important to be a stepchild of a larger organization -- buffeted by year-to-year budget whims and political storms that every Cabinet agency is subject to," Maloney said in a statement.
"Elevating the Census Bureau to the status of an independent body will allow it to conduct its 10-year planning, testing and execution process without interference," she said.
The census has deep political implications because it is used to redraw congressional districts.
Republicans are apoplectic over Obama's plan to have the next Census Bureau director report to both the commerce secretary and White House senior officials. They called on Gary Locke to reject the plan just hours after he was nominated to head the Commerce Department last week.
"Gov. Locke must promise to keep politics out of the census by retaining control over a fair and accurate count in the Commerce Department," House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, said in a statement last week. "The United States census should remain independent of politics; it should not be directed by political operatives working out of the White House."
Locke told reporters on Thursday that the White House "has assured me they plan no change in operations or procedures from the past" with regard to the 2010 Census. But he also said he would consult with administration officials about how to count heads.
"Every administration, Democrat or Republican, has always cared about the census, and there has to be close coordination and communication with the White House, with the president's office, about how the census is being conducted," he said.
Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., who chairs the Senate subcommittee that oversees the 2010 Census, said he is holding a hearing on Thursday on making the census "as efficient and effective as possible." He said he is reviewing Maloney's bill and wants to work with her.
"I've held oversight hearings over the past year showing how the Census Bureau faces real organizational and operational challenges that threatened to undermine the success of the upcoming census," he said in a written statement.
"The Census Bureau is the largest agency in the federal system and must be prepared to carry out our constitutional mandate to survey the nation's population every 10 years," he said.