Search Form
First, enter a politician or zip code
Now, choose a category

Public Statements

Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2008

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

SUPPLEMENTAL APPROPRIATIONS ACT, 2008 -- (Senate - June 26, 2008)


Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, I plan to raise a point of order in a moment, but first I wish to make a statement.

The emergency spending bill being considered by the Senate would provide $210 million for the 2010 Census. No strings are attached to the funding, giving the Census Bureau freedom to spend the money in any way it chooses. While the mission of the Census Bureau is vitally important because of its role in apportioning the House of Representatives and the distribution of billions of dollars in federal grants, the agency has proved to be notoriously bad at spending taxpayer money--and the last thing Congress should do is provide more.

Emergency spending bills should be reserved only for true emergencies, and the 2010 Census is not one of them. The Census Bureau has spent hundreds of millions of dollars over the past 8 years preparing for the 2010 Census. Yet, even that much time and that much money has not been enough to prevent the Bureau from being woefully underprepared.

One of the top priorities for the 2010 Census was modernizing the method for collecting census data so that technology would replace the traditional pen and paper method. One former Director of the Census Bureau called the modernization effort a ``significant improvement'' over the way data had been collected in the past.

Modernization of the census would take two forms:

First, allowing citizens to fill out census forms over the Internet, rather than on paper only.

Second, equipping census workers who go door-to-door to collect information with handheld computers instead of paper forms.

Two contracts were awarded to build the technology: one to Lockheed Martin for, among other things, the development of an online system and a second to the Harris Corporation for the development of the handheld computers. Unfortunately, mismanagement and incompetence forced the Census Bureau to abandon both the Internet in March 2006 and the handheld computers in April 2008 as a means of collecting data. In place of technology, the Bureau has decided to revert back to an entirely paper-based system--exactly the same way census data was collected 200 years ago.

According to the Census Bureau, the reason for abandoning technology and reverting to paper was its own failure to communicate what it wanted to the contractors. The result was a great deal of confusion, schedule delays and irreversible cost overruns.

According to the Government Accountability Office, the Census Bureau was warned repeatedly that problems would mount if it failed to define what it wanted the contractor to do. Instead of taking action, the Bureau kept changing its mind about what it wanted. As recently as January 16, 2008--nearly 2 years after the contract was awarded--the Census Bureau made 400 changes to the contract for handheld computers. To this day, the Census Bureau has still not finalized the handheld computer contract with the Harris Corporation and may not do so until September.

The Census Bureau's mismanagement of the handheld computer contract has become the poster-child for how not to run a large information technology contract. Poor management by the Bureau has diminished the role that technology will play in the 2010 census to the point of embarrassment. Americans will take their Census by paper at the same time that more than 80 million people are filing their Federal taxes online according to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, 75 percent of all adults are actively online. That percentage increases to between 85-90 percent for adults under the age of 50.

According to the Census Bureau, the impact of abandoning technology in the 2010 Census will be a $3 billion overrun. This would bring the total price tag of the 2010 Census to roughly $14.5 billion--or more than double the cost in 2000. Congress should not reward mismanagement at the Census Bureau with an additional $210 million in emergency funding for FY 2008. It is unfair that Congress would ask taxpayers to bail out the Census Bureau for its incompetence in light of the repeated warnings that cost overruns would result from its poor management.

Because the problems of the Census Bureau are of its own making, any additional funding needs for fiscal year 2008 should come out of the budget of the Census Bureau or the Department of Commerce. The real ``emergency'' with the 2010 Census is the failure, mismanagement and incompetence of the Census Bureau.

According to Congress' own rules, emergency spending is only allowed for needs that truly cannot wait until the next spending cycle. These rules are not difficult to understand and lay out clearly what is and what is not an emergency.

There are many activities funded in the bill that are not actual emergencies according to the rules, but at the top of the list of non-emergencies is the $210 million for the 2010 Census. The 2010 Census may go down in history as one of the worst managed and most expensive of all time, primarily because it saw enormous problems on the horizon and chose to ignore them--leading to the emergency today.

Problems at the Census Bureau have been obvious to auditors and to Congress for years, and the funding in this bill is nothing more than a taxpayer-subsidized bailout for a mismanaged and incompetent agency. The Senate should uphold a point of order against the $210 million included in this bill for the 2010 Census because it violates every definition of emergency spending and provides no accountability for how the money will be spent by an agency that has proven that it desperately needs accountability.

According to the rules, spending can only qualify as an emergency if it meets all of the following criteria:

It is a necessary expenditure--an essential or vital expenditure, not one that is merely useful or beneficial;

It is sudden--coming into being quickly, not building up over time;

It is urgent--a pressing and compelling need requiring immediate action;

It is unforeseen--not predictable or seen beforehand as a coming need, although an emergency that is part of an overall level of anticipated emergencies, particularly when estimated in advance, would not be ``unforeseen''; and

It is not permanent--the need is temporary in nature.

Not only does funding for the Census fall short of meeting all of the criteria for emergency spending, it actually fails to meet any of the criteria.

According to Senate Concurrent Resolution 21, any emergency funding for the Census would have to be ``necessary, essential, or vital--not merely useful or beneficial.'' The purpose of this rule is to separate true emergencies from needs that can wait for the regular appropriations process. An accurate count of the population is important for apportioning the House of Representatives, but that alone does not qualify it for emergency funding.

One of the best ways to determine whether funding is ``necessary'' or ``vital'' is to ask the following basic question: ``How does the Census Bureau plan to spend $210 million?'' If funding is truly necessary then there should be a clear answer to that question in the form of a specific plan stating the emergency and how the money would be spent. So, what is the money for? The answer is: no one knows.

The Census Bureau has not requested any emergency funding from the emergency supplemental appropriations bill, nor has it provided a plan for how the money would be spent if received. At a March 6, 2008, hearing of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, and Science, Chairman Barbara Mikulski directly asked both the Commerce Secretary, Carlos Gutierrez, and the Census Director, Steven Murdock, whether they needed emergency funding. Sen. Mikulski gave them a deadline of April 10 to make their request, but both the Secretary of Commerce and the Director of the Census Bureau declined to request any funding. In response, the Commerce Department stated that it did not need emergency money because plenty of funding was available within the department's existing budget. On April 3, 2008--a week ahead of Sen. Mikulski's deadline--Secretary of Commerce Gutierrez instead sent Congress a request to allow the Department to reprogram the department's existing funds to cover the cost overruns at the Census Bureau.

Reprogramming existing funds would force the Department of Commerce to offset an increase in Census funding and to bear the burden of its own mistakes rather than placing the burden on taxpayers. On June 9, the President sent a letter to Congress asking for an increase to its fiscal year 2009 budget request for the Census, but also provides offsetting decreases to other programs. The Administration has stated that it would like for all Census money to come from non-emergency spending, which would ensure that the Census Bureau's needs are not paid for out of deficit spending.

Unfortunately, Congress has chosen deficit spending over fiscal responsibility by including $210 million in this bill for the Census. Congress would rather spend additional taxpayer money than cut existing program budgets within the Department of Commerce. Including money in this bill for the census shows little regard for taxpayers, viewing them as a source of easy money rather than as people who work hard for their income. Congress is simply playing games with the budget rules and driving up the deficit.

Senate rules require that emergency spending bills be reserved only for needs that are ``sudden, urgent and unforeseen'' in nature. The United States has been conducting a census every 10 years since 1790 as required by the Constitution and therefore is never unforeseen.

The Census Bureau is, however, currently facing a likely $3 billion cost overrun for the 2010 Census because of its decision to abandon the use of handheld computers and rely exclusively on paper. Only by stretching the meaning of ``sudden, urgent and unforeseen'' beyond recognition can it be said that the Census Bureau did not see this problem coming. More than 18 months ago, the Census Bureau itself recognized that abandoning the handheld computers for paper would result in a cost increase for the 2010 Census of at least $1 billion.

On August 31, 2006, Former Census Director Louis Kincannon wrote a letter to the Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management with the following warning about reverting to a paper-based census:

``In addition to significant cost increases to the 2010 Census, reverting to a paper-based operation will compromise efforts to improving coverage ..... and will significantly increase the risk of operational failure during the 2010 Census.''

Even as that letter was written, the Census Bureau was being warned that its poor management of the handheld computer project could force the Bureau to revert to an all-paper census. The problems and cost overruns that are materializing today were predicted publicly for a long time, but the Census Bureau ignored the warnings and took no action to prevent the problems.

Chairman Henry Waxman, of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has extensively documented the warnings that were given to the Census Bureau over several years. In addition, the Census Bureau was warned repeatedly by the Government Accountability Office, the Commerce Inspector General, the MITRE Corporation and Congress about its poor planning of the 2010 Census. Each step along the way, the Bureau systematically ignored every warning, leading to the schedule delays and cost overruns being experienced today. The following chronology shows clearly that the current problems being experienced by the Census Bureau are not ``sudden, urgent or unforeseen.''

January 2004--GAG recommended that the Secretary of Commerce develop a ``single integrated project plan'' for executing the 2010 Census, including how to incorporate technology. The Census Bureau ignored the recommendation and moved forward without a plan.

September 2004--The Commerce Inspector General warned that the Bureau should follow a number of key ``software engineering practices'' to avoid pitfalls with the handheld computers. These included doing a better job with ``system requirements'' and overseeing its contractor. The contract for the handhelds was awarded to the Harris Corporation with very few details about what should be produced--more than two years later the plans are still not finalized.

June 2005--GAG warned the Census Bureau that the agency was ``at increased risk of not adequately managing major IT investments and is more likely to experience cost and schedule overruns and performance shortfalls.'' GAO made several recommendations aimed at improving weaknesses in the Bureau's management of information technology. The Census Bureau failed to adequately respond to these recommendations.

March 2006--As the Bureau was getting ready to award the contract to the Harris Corporation, GAO warned that the agency did not have a ``full set of capabilities they need to effectively manage the acquisitions.'' Unless the problem was to be addressed, GAO warned that technology problems could lead to ``cost overruns, schedule delays, and performance shortfalls.'' The Census Bureau ignored the warnings and still has not addressed them more than two years later.

June 2006--The Senate Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management held a hearing on the Census and then-Director Louis Kincannon was asked about whether there was a backup plan if the handheld computers did not work. Even as the GAO was raising concerns that technology for the 2010 Census was in jeopardy, the Director said that no backup plan was needed since the computers were guaranteed to work, and said the following:

``You might as well ask me what happens if the Postal Service refuses to deliver the census forms.''

July 2006--GAO issued a report stating that if the Census Bureau did not do more to ensure the success of the handheld computers, it would be faced with the ``possibility of having to revert to the costly paper-based census used in 2000.''

April 2007--GAO testified before Congress that ``uncertainty surrounded'' the handheld computers because the devices were not being properly tested and The Census Bureau ignored the warnings.

June 2007--The Census Bureau's private, independent consultant--the MITRE Corporation--sounded a loud alarm and warned that the Bureau's continued refusal to make final specifications could put the entire census at risk of severe cost overruns. Census Bureau management dismissed the warning.

July 2007--GAO testified again before a Senate subcommittee that there were ``technical problems with the handheld computing devices'' and that ``risk management activities'' were ``imperative.'' Failure to address these concerns could threaten to overtake the handheld computer project.

October 2007--Once again GAO, with a rising sense of urgency, warned that the handheld contract faced ``an increased probability that decennial systems will not be delivered on schedule and within budget.'' The Census Bureau did not disagree with this assessment.

November 2007--MITRE Corporation executives called an emergency meeting with the Deputy Director of the Census to recommend that he develop a backup plan for paper because the problems with the handheld computers were so severe.

December 2007--In the last days of the year on December 11, the outgoing Director of the Census Bureau testified at a House hearing about the handheld computers and brushed off any concerns raised by Members. He denied that any serious problems existed or that there were any significant delays or cost overruns.

For years, there were warnings raised to the Census Bureau on nearly a monthly basis at times, but those warnings were patently ignored and disdained by Census management. Not until February 2008--when the media caught wind of the true situation--did the Census Bureau acknowledge publicly that there was a serious problem with the handheld computers and that large cost overruns were likely.

In testimony before the Senate Homeland Security Committee on March 5, 2008, the Secretary of Commerce, Carlos Gutierrez, took it one step further and accepted responsibility for failing to act earlier. He said:

``Clearly the problem was more significant than had been conveyed in the December 11 hearing.

In testimony before the Committee on April 15, Secretary Gutierrez admitted that the Bureau was aware of problems by early 2007, when he said:

``Concerns about the [handheld computer) program grew over time and Census and Commerce officials became increasingly aware of the significance of the problems through GAO and Office of Inspector General reviews, the 2007 dress rehearsal and internal assessments.''

None of these concerns were relayed to Congress until it was too late and emergency funding was the only recourse. With this chronology of events, it is simply not possible to claim that any problems with the 2010 Census being seen today are ``sudden, urgent and unforeseen.'' They have been just the opposite: unsurprising, longstanding and predictable.

Without diminishing the importance of the 2010 Census, the funding in this bill does not meet the definition of an emergency by a long shot. The problems surfacing today were not only predicted many times in the past few years, but were documented publicly in numerous congressional hearings. A vote to waive the rules on emergency spending in this situation is a vote to render the emergency spending rules meaningless. A vote to waive the rules is also a vote to reward incompetent management at the Census Bureau despite its ignoring years of repeated warnings that problems were on the horizon.

In order to qualify for emergency funding, it must be proved that funding for the 2010 Census is ``temporary in nature.'' The rule is intended to ensure that needs that are long-standing or ongoing do not get funding under emergency rules. Rather, only those needs that are short-lived can qualify as an emergency.

No activity of the U.S. Government has existed for a longer period of time nor has an activity of the government been as predictable as the decennial census. Article 1, Section 2 of the Constitution states that ``The actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct.'' With these words, the Founding Fathers established that a census of the entire population would be taken every ten years in perpetuity. Since the birth of the Nation more than 230 years ago, a census has been taken every 10 years--few things in government are as permanent as the census.

It should come as a surprise to no one that there will be a census in 2010, least of all to Congress and to the Census Bureau. $210 million in emergency spending should not be included in a bill that is intended only for measures that are ``not permanent'' or ``temporary.''

The Census Bureau finds itself today as the recipient of a bailout from Congress because it has been taught by past experience to expect a bailout whenever times get tough. The example of the 2000 Census provides an illustration of how the expectation of a congressional bailout drives up costs because it decreases concerns about getting the best price.

By the late 1990s, census planners were operating under the assumption that the 2000 Census would cost $4 billion--then the most expensive of all time. At the time, the Census Bureau was planning to use a method of data collection known as ``sampling'' during the 2000 Census. On January 25, 1999, only 15 months before Census Day 2000, the Supreme Court ruled that sampling was not allowable, and that the Census Bureau would have to redesign the 2000 Census.

Although the issue was highly controversial, and subject to a ruling by the Supreme Court, the Census Bureau failed to make any plans whatsoever in the event that sampling would not be allowed. In September 1999, GAO reported that: ``The bureau did not begin detailed budgeting for a nonsampling-based census until after the Supreme Court ruled that the Census Act prohibited the use of statistical sampling.'' Thus, poor planning and mismanagement forced the Census Bureau to request an additional $2.6 billion from Congress during the final year of preparations.

Congress was faced with the decision to either cut $2.6 billion from existing programs or designate the new funding as an emergency. Not surprisingly, Congress chose to designate the $2.6 billion as an emergency since it allowed the funding to get around the budget rules that would have otherwise required spending cuts. It is the worst kept secret in Washington that emergency spending is nothing more than a ploy by politicians to bust through the budget caps and spend more money. Although Members of Congress were spared from having to make any difficult choices, taxpayers were not so lucky.

Today, for the 2010 Census, Congress is once again facing a decision about how to come up with $3 billion. And, once again it wants to pay for it on the backs of the American people. Management at the Census Bureau is smart enough to know that Congress will never hold the agency accountable for its mismanagement of taxpayer dollars, as evidenced by the $210 million in this bill. Congress should begin holding the Census Bureau accountable today and sustain the point of order against emergency funding for the census in this bill.


By providing $210 million to the Census Bureau, Congress is disregarding the findings of its own committees. There have been no fewer than five committee hearings in the past 3 months detailing the long-standing failures of the Census Bureau to properly manage the 2010 Census.

Several members of Congress from both parties and both houses have commented over the past several months about the poor management of the Census Bureau and the shocking indifference it showed towards those that tried to raise a warning. The following statements have been made in recent months by various Members of Congress.

On March 6, the Chairman of the Senate Commerce, Justice and State Appropriations Subcommittee, Senator BARBARA MIKULSKI, said that it was ``shocking'' that the 2010 Census will be done the same way ``we've been doing censuses for 200 years.'' Senator MIKULSKI also stated that ``a paper census in America borders on a scandal.''

On June 18th, the ranking member of the CJS Subcommittee, Senator RICHARD SHELBY, said that the $3 billion cost overrun is the result of ``gross mismanagement of the Census Bureau in acquiring hand held computers.''

In March 2008, Representative CAROLYN MALONEY called the management of the 2010 Census a ``mess'' and said that ``what we're facing is a statistical Katrina.'' In April 2008, upon hearing that the Census Bureau decided to abandon the handheld computers, she said: ``It brings little satisfaction to have been right about this, but we've said since last year the Census was in real peril.''

Representative HENRY WAXMAN, Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, blamed the cost overruns on ``serious mismanagement'' and said that ``the costly decision to return to a paper census was avoidable.''

At a hearing in March, Senator TOM CARPER, Chairman of the subcommittee with jurisdiction over the Census Bureau, said that ``the Census Bureau did not heed the warnings coming from GAO and others that their handheld project was troubled.''

Representative LACY CLAY, who chairs the House Census Subcommittee said, ``This appalling failure of management oversight by both the Census Bureau and Harris Interactive, combined with ridiculous cost overruns is totally unacceptable.'' Representative CLAY also said: ``[Harris] is delivering half of the hand-held computers that the Census Bureau originally ordered. The machines can't do what we wanted them to do. And yet, Harris expects the taxpayers to provide more than $700 million more to pay for their failures. That is outrageous.''

Senator JOE LIEBERMAN said that ``it is inexcusable that the Census Bureau must still rely on paper and pencils to perform its most important function.''

Senator SUSAN COLLINS, in discussing the management of the census, said that ``there is little to applaud and much to be concerned about.'' Senator COLLINS went to blame agency management for a ``combination of wishful thinking, lax management, and tunnel vision.''

Even the Secretary of Commerce, Carlos Gutierrez, who is ultimately responsible for the 2010 Census, said that the problems with the handheld computers are not the result of an unexpected emergency, but is ``a management problem.''


The Census Bureau has one of the worst track records of any federal agency when it comes to spending taxpayer money. Numerous accounts can be given to highlight the way in which the Census Bureau wastes money through negligence, mismanagement and incompetence. The $210 million in emergency funding in the bill is nothing more than rewarding bad behavior with more money and no accountability.

Consider the following ways in which the Census Bureau has done a poor job of controlling the cost of the census:

The cost of the census has doubled every time it has been taken since 1970. In 1970, it cost only $248 million to count 200,000 American citizens, but in 2010, it will cost nearly $15 billion to count 300,000 citizens--that means it will cost 60 times more to count 1 1/2 times as many people. In the 1990 Census it cost $10 per person to count the population--in the 2010 Census, it will cost at least $47 per person.

More recently, the Census Bureau awarded a $600 million cost-plus contract to the Harris Corporation for the development of handheld computers, which has skyrocketed above the original plan. The handheld computers were supposed to perform a number of functions, including two functions called Address Canvassing and Non-Response Follow Up:

Address Canvassing is the process of plotting every American household with a GPS coordinate.

Non-Response Follow Up is the process of collecting information door-to-door from households that don't respond to the census by mail.

Due to mismanagement by the Census Bureau, the project has not only been severely scaled back but the cost of the contract will likely double. In April, the Secretary of Commerce decided to eliminate Non-Response Follow Up from the list of functions that the handheld computer would perform, leaving only Address Canvassing. The Harris Corporation estimated that the impact of that decision so close to the 2010 Census would increase the cost of the contract from approximately $600 million to $1.3 billion--an overrun of $700 million to be funded by taxpayers.

According to estimates based on the new contract, the unit cost for each handheld computer would be $600 for a device that can do nothing more than plot homes on a map using GPS coordinates. This means that the Census Bureau will pay $600 for a custom-made handheld device that can do less than an off-the-shelf BlackBerry that costs $200 or an iPhone that costs $275.

One of the most glaring examples of wasted money at the Census Bureau is seen in the recent cost overrun for a technology help-desk planned for census takers going door-to-door in 2010. The original for the help desk--before the decision was made to abandon technology for a paper census--was $36 million. After the decision to use paper only, the estimated cost of the technology help desk increased to $217 million.

Some will argue that without immediate emergency funding, the Census Bureau will not be able to pull off the 2010 Census, putting apportionment and important programs in jeopardy.

This is not true. The next fiscal year is only 3 months away and any funding that the Census Bureau needs can be provided then. There is no compelling argument that emergency deficit spending on the 2010 Census is needed immediately. Perhaps the reason why $210 million is being included is because the Congress--like the Census Bureau--is once again mismanaging its constitutional duties to pass appropriations bills on time.

Also, as I already stated earlier, it is not clear what this money would actually be used for and so it is impossible to say it is essential. It is incomprehensible why the Census Bureau needs an extra $210 million at this point when it is planning to spend an overall amount of $14.5 billion on the 2010 Census. That is more than twice as much as the cost of the 2000 Census that was done the exact same way--by pencil and paper.

There are plenty of deficit-neutral options available to provide funding for the 2010 Census, including transferring money already available within the Department of Commerce. Or, Congress could cut or eliminate less important programs to free up money for the 2010 Census.

Furthermore, some may argue that the concerns about poor management at the Census Bureau can be dealt with another time--the most important thing is getting the 2010 Census done right and without delay.

I would respond by noting that this country is always in the middle of preparations for the next decennial census--if management concerns are always pushed back then they will never be addressed. Providing a bailout for the Census Bureau now is tantamount to excusing the poor management that has prevailed at the agency for the better part of a decade.

Report after report by the GAO and the Inspector General have called upon the Census Bureau to improve its poor management of the 2010 Census. Each of those reports and warnings were ignored because, ultimately, the agency knew that Congress didn't care about accountability. Congress should deal with the management concerns immediately and start by withholding the bailout money in this bill.

Mr. President, this is a simple point of order, but it has tremendous ramifications on whether we are going to effectively oversight the rest of the executive agencies.

Three and a half years ago, Tom Carper and I started oversight hearings on the census. At that time, GAO said: They are not going to make it. They are not doing what they need to do. It was totally ignored, both by the Census Bureau as well as the Department of Commerce. Now we find that even though they have had two contracts--one with Lockheed and one with another company--to put the census online--we are going to be the only modern country that doesn't have the census online--they have totally withheld, totally canceled that contract, and totally didn't perform. The other, to do with electronic data collection, is now a flop, and they admit the reason it is a flop is because the Census Bureau did not communicate with the contractor.

In this bill is $210 million to say: Oh, we are sorry. We are going to give you more money because you didn't do it well.

Secretary Gutierrez says there is plenty of money in the Commerce Department to cover this cost, and I am going to raise a point of order that it is not an emergency. There is plenty of money there, and we are sending exactly the wrong message to every other agency in this Government by allowing an agency that is going to do the census the same way it did 200 years ago because of incompetency. We are going to give them $200 million on an emergency basis, and we are going to charge the next generation because we are not going to pay for it. We are going to borrow the money, and we are going to embrace and endorse incompetence.

So, Mr. President, I raise a point of order, pursuant to section 204(a)(5) of the fiscal year 2008 budget resolution, S. Con. Res. 21, against the emergency designation of $200 million for the Census Bureau in the message in the pending amendment, and I ask for the yeas and nays.


Skip to top

Help us stay free for all your Fellow Americans

Just $5 from everyone reading this would do it.

Back to top