The President’s recent decision to increase oversight of the Census Bureau may help to stem billions of dollars in cost overruns from the troubled agency, freeing funding for other agencies in the Department of Commerce. Under the President’s new plan, the director of the Census Bureau would not only report to the Secretary of Commerce, but would also work directly with senior White House aides.

Cost overruns on the order of $7 to $8 billion in the 2010 Census have jeopardized the budgets of other agencies in the Department of Commerce, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). In April, former Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez proposed reprogramming up to $232 million within the Department of Commerce budget to compensate for budget shortfalls in the Census Bureau. NOAA would have lost $27 million from their 2008 budget under this proposal, which Congress did not approve.

Despite the injection of $210 million in funding in the Supplemental Appropriations Act in June and an additional $1 billion expected in the economic stimulus package, the 2010 Census may still be several billion short. This creates a situation where NOAA’s budget may be in jeopardy once again. More oversight of the 2010 Census by the Administration could help to stem cost overruns within the program and could relieve pressure from the budgets’ of other agencies within the Department of Commerce.

The President’s decision has been criticized by some Republicans. Representatives Issa (R-CA) and McHenry (R-NC) of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform called the plan “a shamefully transparent attempt by [the Obama] administration to politicize the Census Bureau and manipulate the 2010 Census.”

According to the Government Accountability Office, the nonpartisan investigative arm of Congress, the 2010 Census has been plagued by myriad of problems, including huge cost overruns, faulty technology, inadequate planning, and a lack of oversight of government contractors. The 2010 Census is on track to cost $13.7 to $14.5 billion, more than double the cost of the 2000 Census.

The U.S. Constitution mandates that a count of the U.S. population is conducted at least every 10 years in order to redistribute the number of representatives for each state in the House of Representatives.

 


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