The 2010 Census Oversight and Management Act, co-authored by Sens. Tom Carper, D-Del., and Tom Coburn, R-Okla., passed the Senate by unanimous consent. The measure now moves to the House, where an identical bill, sponsored by Reps. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., and Charlie Dent, R-Pa., awaits a vote during the lame-duck session.
The bill would provide management stability by making the director of the Census Bureau a presidentially appointed five-year term. The term would not begin until Jan. 1, 2012, and an individual would not be allowed to serve more than two full terms as director.
Congressional sources said the premise behind the provision was to keep a new president from coming into office and changing directors in the middle of a census. The U.S. Constitution requires a census every 10 years, while presidential administrations, which oversee management of the count, operate on a four-year cycle.
"This bill is an important step forward in our effort to modernize and improve the census process," said Sen. Carper, who serves as chairman of the Senate Federal Financial Management, Government Information, Federal Services and International Security Subcommittee, which has jurisdiction over the census. "By working with our colleagues across the aisle, we were able to enact several common-sense reforms that will strengthen the Census Bureau and enhance our ability to conduct a thorough, cost-effective and accurate Census."
Census Bureau officials said they supported the term-limit provision.
The bill also requires the director to report directly to the Secretary of Commerce. The Census Bureau is part of the Commerce Department.
Congress would receive more information about the status of the next census through an annual report, a description of the bureau's performance standards and a risk-assessment of each significant decennial operation.
The bureau also would be required to test, develop and implement an option that would allow the public to respond to the 2020 census survey online.
"In an age when the Internet has become a primary form of communication and administration, getting the census online by 2020 is a top priority," Coburn said. "Although this is only the first step, it helps lay the groundwork for conducting cost-effective oversight that will give Congress and the Census director the ability to better manage this constitutional responsibility."