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  •   Census Plans Proceed Despite Court Ruling

    By Barbara Vobejda
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Monday, September 7, 1998; Page A23

    The Clinton administration is sticking with its blueprint for the next census, despite a call from House Republicans to abandon the plan in light of a recent federal court opinion declaring it illegal.

    That is the message from Commerce Secretary William Daley as both sides gear up their battle over how to conduct the year 2000 national head count. Republican members of the House have scheduled a hearing Wednesday to voice their opposition to the Census Bureau plan to use statistical sampling, a method that relies on surveying part of the population to help calculate a total head count for the nation.

    Supporters of sampling, including the Children's Defense Fund and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, plan to release tomorrow numbers showing how many children were missed in the 1990 Census and how that affects school districts across the country.

    Daley informed House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) last week that, pending an appeal to the Supreme Court, his department and the Census Bureau would continue preparations to use sampling. "It would not be prudent" to alter the bureau's preparations, which include getting ready for either a traditional census or one using sampling as well, whatever the agency is ultimately ordered to do, Daley wrote.

    He cited a 1998 law that provided funding for the government to pursue "dual track" preparations until the Supreme Court reviews the issue.

    Congressional Republicans and the administration have been fighting for two years over how the census should be conducted, with Republicans arguing that sampling is unconstitutional and the results could be manipulated for political reasons. They filed a lawsuit challenging the government's plan to use sampling and a special three-judge panel ruled Aug. 24 that the method is illegal and cannot be used in the 2000 Census.

    The administration, which is appealing to the Supreme Court, has maintained that sampling is the best way to improve the accuracy of the 1990 Census, which resulted in a net undercount of 4 million people.

    Under its plan, the government would collect as many census forms as possible, then survey some of the households that haven't returned forms and use that information to infer the number and characteristics of people who were not reached.

    "We will continue . . . because the Census Bureau and virtually every professional organization has attested that this approach will produce the most accurate census," said Robert J. Shapiro, Commerce undersecretary for economic affairs, who has responsibility for the Census Bureau. He also said much of the work that is underway is applicable to either type of census.

    But GOP leaders, in their letter to Daley, said "it is simply outrageous to continue diverting bureau resources toward a method that is strongly disapproved of by a majority of the Congress and which has been ruled illegal by the courts."

    The letter was signed by Gingrich, Chief Deputy Whip J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and Rep. Dan Miller (R-Fla.), Census subcommittee chairman.

    Under a law approved by Congress last year, the Supreme Court must take up the census matter and either affirm or reverse the lower court ruling as quickly as possible.

    The issue is also being negotiated as part of an appropriations bill before a House-Senate conference committee. The House approved funding for census planning for just six months, saying the agency should continue planning for both types of census and the dispute would be resolved next spring. The six-month limit is not in the Senate bill.

    Christin Tinsworth, a spokeswoman for Miller, said by delaying the decision six months, Congress could hear from a bipartisan monitoring board that has been reviewing the census plans, review the results of a census dress rehearsal held this year and await a Supreme Court ruling.

    The administration has threatened a presidential veto of the six-month limit on spending, arguing that the bill did not contain adequate funding.

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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