US Mayor Article

Census Bureau Completes Follow-up Site Visits Ahead of Schedule

By Larry Jones
July 17, 2000


Census 2000 is proceeding ahead of schedule as census enumerators completed the task of contacting 42 million households in follow-up site visits about one week ahead of the July 7 scheduled completion date. This completes the "nonresponse follow-up" phase of the census, in which census enumerators visited each household that did not mail back a census questionnaire to count the occupants or declare the household vacant. All 120 million households on the Bureau's master address list have now been accounted for since the remaining 78 million mailed back their census forms by the April 17 cut-off date.

During a June 29 press announcement, Commerce Secretary William Daley and Census Bureau Director Kenneth Prewitt praised the Bureau staff for helping to make the census an operational success. Referring to the criticisms that the Bureau received during the 1990 census, Prewitt said "There had been a sense that this was an incompetent federal agency, that we could not do things right." But, he said "I think we erased a lot of those negatives."

The Bureau has moved into the next phase of the census which will involve enumerators revisiting 12 million households as part of a quality check effort to improve the accuracy of the final count. This involves:

  • conducting "coverage improvement programs," in which enumerators will revisit housing units previously identified as vacant or nonexistent to make sure there are no occupants or that the address doesn't exist;

  • gathering responses from housing units that were built after the fall 1999 cut-off date for developing the Census Bureau's address list; and

  • revisiting through mid-August a sample of 224,000 households nationwide as part of the Accuracy and Coverage Evaluation (A.C.E.) program to measure undercounts and overcounts that took place in the direct counting phase. An additional 90,000 households have already been contacted by telephone for a total nationwide sample of 314,000 in the A.C.E.

Information from the A.C.E. survey will be used to adjust the final census numbers for undercounting and over counting. However, the adjusted numbers can not be used to determine the population for purposes of apportioning the 435 congressional seats among the 50 states. Last year the Supreme Court ruled that the Bureau must use direct counting methods to determine the population for purposes of apportionment. But modern scientific methods such as the A.C.E. survey may be used to determine the population for purposes of redistricting and allocation of federal funds.

A partisan controversy is brewing over this issue as several states have either passed or are in the process of considering state legislation barring the use of the Bureau's adjusted census figures for redistricting. Many Republican legislators believe the adjusted numbers will benefit Democrats since undercounting in past census counts have disproportionately affected minorities and others who traditionally vote for Democrats. Democrats believe the Bureau can not achieve an accurate count without adjusting the final numbers for undercounting and over counting.

The Commerce Department published a proposed rule on June 20 delegating to the Census Bureau Director the authority to decide whether to report statistically corrected census figures to states next spring for use in the redistricting process. This action is aimed at limiting the influence of politics in a decision that many believe should be made by professionals and experts in the census field. There is a 45-day comment period on the proposed rule which ends on August 6. Comments should be addressed to: John H. Thompson, Associate Director for Decennial Census, Bureau of the Census, Suitland and Silver Hill Roads, Building 2, Room 3586, Suitland, Maryland, 20233. The proposed rule and the related materials, including a Bureau report on the feasibility of producing statistically corrected data by the April 1, 2001 deadline, are available on the agency's web site at http://www.census.gov/Press-Release/www/presskit.html. 

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