Census to close six offices, cut costs

The U.S. Census Bureau will close half of its 12 regional offices in a cost-cutting measure, the agency announced Tuesday.

None of approximately 7,200 field workers who collect vital statistics on individual households and the economy will lose their jobs, said Robert M. Groves, the Census Bureau director.

But about 330 employees — mostly supervisors, including six regional directors — will be affected. Some will work from their homes, others will relocate, and some are expected to retire, Groves said. By the time all six offices close at the end of 2012, the Census Bureau will trim 115 to 130 positions from a workforce of 15,000.

The cuts are expected to save $15 million to $18 million a year, the bulk of it in salaries and $3 million in rent. The Census Bureau has come under increasing pressure to cut costs before the 2020 Census, which will have some kind of Internet option.

The offices that will close are in Boston, Charlotte, Dallas, Detroit, Kansas City and Seattle. The six remaining offices are in Atlanta, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, New York and Philadelphia.

The closures will place some locations in regions that make more sense. For example, all of California will be run out of Los Angeles instead of being split in two, with Northern California assigned to the Seattle office as it is now.

Around Washington, Virginia has been part of the region based in Charlotte. When the switch is completed, it will be run out of the Philadelphia office, as Maryland and the District already are.

But the realignment also leaves some parts of the country with a distant regional headquarters. Texas, for example, will be run out of Denver instead of Dallas. The Denver office covers a huge swatch of the country, from the Canadian border to the Mexican border.

Terri Ann Lowenthal, a census consultant who wrote a blog on 2010 Census issues, said the loss of proximity could cause problems.

“Can a regional director understand the full diversity of communities to the level that’s required, to take a good census if they have that much territory to cover?” she said.

Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, said losing an office rooted in a region with so many Hispanics, the fastest-growing group in the country, could make it harder to count people in the 2020 Census.

“My concern would be not having a field office closest to some of the areas of the country where they had some of the greatest challenges, particularly the border areas,” he said.

Groves said in a telephone interview it made more sense to base the office in Denver, in the center of the region, instead of at its southern end in Dallas.

“We think we’re setting up the Census Bureau for a future of data collection that is more technologically assisted,” he said.

Carol Morello writes about demographics and the census, as well as a lot of other stuff that comes down the pike. She has worked at the Washington Post since 2000.
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