Commerce seeks emergency aid for Census Bureau

The Commerce Department has requested $6.8 million to help the Census Bureau meet its budget gap, at least in the short term.

"The Bureau is facing nothing less than a budgetary 'crisis'," its director, Charles Kincannon, told a House Oversight and Government Reform Information Policy Subcommittee hearing.

The Commerce Department filed the request with Congress Monday for approval as the agency continues to struggle with a financial shortfall as it prepares to conduct the 2010 census. Funding from the Commerce Department, however, depends on approval from the House and the Senate, and while the head of the Census Bureau told lawmakers Tuesday that he hoped it will be approved by Friday, there is no clear indication whether that will be possible.

Kincannon, who tendered his resignation from the Census Bureau nearly a year ago but has stayed on as the Senate has yet to confirm Texan demographer Steve Murdock to replace him, pointed out that the bureau will have to scale back its so-called dress rehearsal of the census, planned for next year.

The actual census must be conducted on April 1, 2010, with results being submitted to the White House by December of that year. The constitutionally mandated program is expected to cost around $11.5 billion. Unable to secure funding for fiscal 2008 which started Oct. 1, the Bureau is running on a continuing resolution that provides a budget at the fiscal 2007 level until Nov. 16, even though it had actually requested a 40 percent increase from a year ago and had secured presidential approval for it in February.

A major reason for the increase in budgetary demand is the Census Bureau's plan to make more use of technology, most notably the first-time use of hand-held computers to collect data from residents. Kincannon said under current financial constraints, the bureau will be downscaling its practice run next year in several ways, for instance by not counting people living in group quarters such as in dormitories, military barracks, and prisons.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., expressed her concern about not counting military group housing in particular, pointing out that those at the Fort Bragg military base were already worried about how the budget cuts would affect them.

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