Any remaining hope for a modern, efficient and precise census in 2010 has cratered, brought low by managerial incompetence and the administration's relentless antipathy for effective government.
The latest problem is the Census Bureau's failure-- after nearly four years and almost $600 million -- to develop a reliable hand-held computer system for counting millions of Americans who are not counted by mail. Census takers will now have to use far less accurate paper and pencil. At a hearing last week Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez told lawmakers that the agency would need up to an additional $232 million this year to ramp up systems to accommodate the paper count, including new forms, instructions and training materials and redesigned management and logistical support.
Congress had already been briefed on the hand-held mess. What came as a shock was Mr. Gutierrez's message that the White House insists on cutting other Commerce Department programs to come up with new money for the census. Most of the targeted cuts are from programs the White House tried to kill or reduce in 2008, but were rescued by Congress: such as spending for the National Institute of Standards and Technology, marine sanctuaries, pollution control, Chesapeake Bay restoration and economic development grants for Appalachia.
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