WASHINGTON -- Rep. John Culberson, the new Republican co-chair of the Congressional Research and Development Caucus, doesn't necessarily value all research, especially not research that informs lawmakers about the American public.
The Texas congressman rates the caucus post because he chairs the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies, which has enormous influence over science budgets in the United States. For the most part, the science community was pleased that Culberson got the chairman's job because he's among the better defenders of science in the House -- especially of NASA, whose Johnson Space Center is near his Houston district.
"The Constitution gives Congress authority in 'promoting the progress of science,' and we have a duty to ensure America remains the world leader in scientific and medical breakthroughs," said Culberson in a statement Monday. "It all starts with R&D. The R&D projects our scientists tackle today will shape the world our children and grandchildren inherit and will determine America's economic and military strength for generations to come."
But the Constitution includes a research-related demand even before the duty to "promote the progress of science": It requires the counting of all Americans through the Census. Along with that counting -- ever since James Madison ran the Census -- have come a number of questions designed to see how people in the country are doing. These days the ongoing American Community Survey gathers that information.
And Culberson is not interested in that research at all. "I have a lot of constituents who are concerned about the American Community Survey, the intrusiveness of it in a lot of areas," he told Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker at a budget hearing earlier this month.
"I'm a big believer in privacy and our most important right as Americans is to be left alone, which is why I'm concerned about the American Community Survey. It's very long and intrusive," Culberson added. "Fundamentally the Census just ought to be who are you, how many people live there, what's your ancestry, you know, very simple, straightforward questions."
Data from the Census and the American Community Survey are regarded as vital to both governments and businesses trying to target the right services and products to the right people and localities. Information from the American Community Survey helps direct the disbursement of hundreds of billions of dollars in federal and state funds every year.
Culberson does not seem very interested even in the research needed to produce a Census in 2020 that does not exceed the $13 billion cost of the count in 2010. To keep the price tag down, the Census Bureau is in the midst of testing ways to use other official records and the Internet, but those methods must be thoroughly proven before they can be implemented as part of the constitutionally required counting.
At the same hearing, Pritzker warned that Congress was not appropriating the cash needed to do this work, which would leave the agency to rely on the old-fashioned -- and very expensive -- door-knocking campaigns.
Culberson was not impressed. "We just simply won't have the money this year. It's going to be a very difficult budget," he said.
The congressman is even less interested in climate research -- so much so that he authored a bill that declared there is no carbon pollution and the cost of such pollution is therefore zero. Scientists reported last fall that carbon emissions have hit record highs.
Michael McAuliff covers Congress and politics for The Huffington Post. Talk to him on Facebook.
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