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The Oklahoman - Lawmaker Criticizes Head Count

Location: Washington, DC

The Oklahoman - Lawmaker Criticizes Head Count

By Chris Casteel
The Oklahoman

Sen. Tom Coburn grilled the director of the U.S. Census Bureau on Tuesday over the agency's decision not to use the Internet for the national head count in 2010.

At a Capitol Hill hearing, the Muskogee Republican also criticized the agency for needing far more money for the next census than in 2000, even though it will only be sending out the short form this time.

"In an age when people do everything online from shopping to banking to filing their taxes, the Census Bureau is lagging behind, needlessly adding to its already high costs," Coburn said at a hearing of his subcommittee on federal financial management.

According to Coburn, the 2010 count will cost an estimated $11.3 billion, about $5 billion more than in 2000.

Charles Louis Kincannon, the Census Bureau director, told Coburn much of the increased cost is related to inflation. And he said the bureau is expecting to count 310 million people at 130 million households, up from about 117 million households in 2000.

"We must also consider that our increasingly diverse population is more difficult to count," Kincannon said. "In addition, experience reveals that people have become more resistant to answering surveys and providing information to the government."

Kincannon said the bureau tested Internet responses twice, in 2003 and 2005, and found the overall response rate was no higher than with a test group given only the mail-in option.

Coburn argued it didn't make any sense that people would be unwilling to give basic census information online, given how much financial and other activity is conducted online. And he chastised Kincannon for taking the Internet option off the table, saying it would set back efforts to move toward electronic counting.

"Under the leadership I see now, we're never going to get to the Internet," Coburn said. "You've said you won't do it (for 2010) and the next shot at it is 2020."

Kincannon suggested that some people may have found it just as easy to mail in the short form and others who would have been willing to respond online never got around to it.

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