After Botched Census, Democrats Seek Less Accountability for Bureau

As the Census Bureau faces questions about a botched population count in 2020, the White House expressed conditional support Tuesday for legislation that would loosen the agency’s accountability to taxpayers and elected lawmakers. 

The Office of Management and Budget released a statement of President Joe Biden’s administration policy in support of HR 8326, a bill dubbed Ensuring a Fair and Accurate Census Act. 

The bill approved Tuesday by the House Rules Committee, would grant the Census Bureau’s director the sole authority to make operational, statistical, or technical decisions about the census. The bill also says the director would be removable only for “inefficiency, neglect of duty, or malfeasance in office.”

The president nominates and confirms the Census Bureau Director. At the moment, the president may fire the director at his discretion as with any other political appointee.

The bill was sponsored by Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), the chairwoman of House Oversight and Reform Committee. 

“This legislation would safeguard the integrity of the Census Bureau and enhance the accuracy of census data,” the OMB statement says, adding:

The administration appreciates the Congress’ interest in improving the decennial census. The basis for political representation is the population data. It determines how hundreds and billions of dollars of federal money are spent and provides crucial information to policymakers as well as business owners about their communities.

Hans von Spakovsky, a senior Legal Fellow with The Heritage Foundation, cautioned that the measure would further shield The Census Bureau from accountability, if it is made law. (The Daily Signal is Heritage’s multimedia news organization.)  

“It is another step down the road of empowering a government bureaucracy that is not answerable to voters and is unsupervised by the elected leaders of the executive branch,” von Spakovsky told The Daily Signal. “It is a dangerous and reckless bill that expands the administrative state at the expense of democracy, accountability, and fairness.”

The provision that would empower the Census Bureau director to make statistical, operational or technical decisions has been a longstanding goal of the left, which wants to conduct “statistical sampling” that doesn’t include a finite count, said Ken Blackwell, a former Ohio secretary of state who was co-chairman of the bipartisan U.S. Census Monitoring Board in 2000. 

“When I was co-chairman of the board in 2000, we fought off the left’s efforts to use statistical analysis and instead insisted on counting real people and not statistics that were made up,” Blackwell, a Republican, told The Daily Signal.

“The statistical analysis is a sleight of hand to draw more favorable political districts for Democrats,” he said. “You would have to have the imagination of Walt Disney to think this is anything else.” 

The Census Bureau’s Post-Enumeration SurveyThe 2020 census underestimated six states that are conservative and overcounted eight states that are liberal. These errors could tip both the House of Representatives’ representation and the Electoral College in Democrats favor. 

The proposed changes could exempt the Census Bureau of the obligation to report to the president under current law. In the OMB’s statement, the Biden White House suggested it has concerns:

As HR 8326 proceeds through the legislative process, the administration looks forward to working with the Congress to ensure its provisions do not circumvent OMB’s role in formulating the president’s budget request and to avoid impinging on the president’s authority over executive branch agencies.

James Comer, R.Ky., is the ranking Republican on House Oversight and Reform Committee. He says that the proposed increased power for the Census Bureau director would make it harder to hold the Census Bureau accountable for future problems. 

“Democrats talk a big game about disinformation, but their so-called Ensuring a Fair and Accurate Census Act is a prime example of it,” Comer told The Daily Signal. 

“The bill will do nothing to make the census more fair and accurate. Instead, it weakens accountability at the Census Bureau by placing massive power in the hands of unelected and unaccountable bureaucrats,” Comer said. “If Democrats are truly concerned about ensuring an accurate census, they would support adding a question on citizenship to guarantee a fair basis for the apportionment of congressional districts.”

The legislation would also create a career deputy director to fill in for the vacant directorship. It would reduce the number of political appointees to the Census Bureau to three, from around two dozen currently, and provide civil service protections for more Census Bureau employees. 

The legislation was approved by the House Oversight and Reform Committee in July. Democrats wanted to wrap the proposed changes around former President Donald Trump. 

“After the Trump administration’s illegal efforts to weaponize the Census Bureau for political gain, it is clear we need stronger protections for this vital institution that impacts everything from congressional representation to the disbursement of public and private funding,” Maloney, the bill sponsor and Oversight Committee chairwoman, said in a public statement. “I’m proud that the committee took this important step to safeguard the integrity and independence of the Census Bureau.”

As the Post-Enumeration Survey discovered that the 2020 census underestimated Arkansas’ population by 5.04%; Tennessee, by 4.78%; Mississippi, by 4.11%; Florida, by 3.48% and Florida, respectively; Illinois by 1.977%; and Texas by 1.52%, the legislative push for Census Bureau bureaucrats protection comes as a result of the Post-Enumeration Survey. 

The survey also found out that the 2020 census overcounted Hawaii by 6.99%; Delaware by 5.45% and Rhode Island, 5.05%; Minnesota, 3.84%, New York (3.44%); Utah by 2.59%; Massachusetts at 2.24%; Ohio by 1.59%. 

Because of the overcounts and undercountsFlorida lost two additional House seats and two Electoral College vote votes. Texas lost one House chair and one electoral vote. Meanwhile, Minnesota and Rhode Island each kept a House seat that likely would have been lost under an accurate count, while Colorado gained a House seat it shouldn’t have gotten. 

If passed by Congress and signed into law by Biden, the measure likely wouldn’t pressure bureaucrats to improve, Heritage’s von Spakovsky told The Daily Signal. 

“This is a terrible bill that takes away all accountability and oversight of the Census Bureau and hands power to unelected bureaucrats,” von Spakovsky said.

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