The Politicization of the Census Bureau is Not the Change Americans are Looking For

If you watch the news, as I do, viewing can be a pretty discouraging thing these days. Recession, job losses, foreclosures, and the skyrocketing national debt seem to be plastered across every news program. And during these challenging times, the American people expect those who work in Washington to put aside their political weapons and focus on finding solutions to the difficulties we face.

In fact, no single word was more prominently used during the election cycle of 2008 than “change.” It was a rallying cry for both Republicans and Democrats and represented a promise to reform Washington into a more bipartisan and transparent government.

That was until the wave of promised bipartisanship suddenly hit a sea wall called the U.S. Census Bureau.

Recently President Obama took a commendable step in appointing Republican Senator Judd Gregg to be the next Secretary of Commerce. It was a choice that signaled a desire to include Republicans in the Administration’s decision making and an effort to de-politicize critical issues that the country faces.

Photographers and camera crews were welcomed into the White House for the official announcement – heralded as a major step toward greater civility. However no such press event was assembled as the White House quietly announced later that the Director of the non-partisan Census Bureau would no longer report to the Secretary of Commerce as it always has, but would now report directly to the President’s Chief of Staff, and former head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Rahm Emmanuel.

This sudden and seismic shift may on the surface seem to be nothing more than a procedural change, until one realizes the importance of the 2010 Census and the political power that it will have to shape the future.

The data collected in the Census will affect how more than $300 billion in federal and state funding is allocated each year to communities for neighborhood improvement, public health, transportation, and much more. The statistics will also be used to apportion seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and to redistrict state legislatures. It will also affect school district assignment areas and other important functional areas of government.

That’s why the seizure of the non-political Census Bureau by the political structure in the White House signals a troubling willingness to insert politics into the process that it says it wants to de-politicize. This is nothing more than a bait-and-switch.

This move is definitely without precedent as Bruce Chapman, former Director of the U.S. Census Bureau said. “The White House and its Congressional allies are wrong in asserting that the Census in the past has reported directly to the president through his staff. Directors of the Bureau often brief presidents and their staffs, but, as a former director (under President Reagan), I don’t know of any cases where the conduct of the Bureau was directly under White House supervision. That includes Clinton in 2000, Bush 41 in 1990 and Carter in 1980.”

Elections should and do have consequences, but this move by the Administration is not the change that Americans were promised. People expect Washington to conduct itself in an above board manner, and with our nation fighting two wars abroad and facing a financial crisis at home, the last thing that Americans want is political warfare taking over government decision making.

While rhetoric and well meaning promises are admirable, good intentions don’t get the job done. It’s time for a little less talk and a lot more action. That would be a change that the American people would truly welcome.