On Sept. 15 the Senate unanimously expressed concern that a question on marital status appears on the Census 2000 long form rather than on the short form [In the Loop, Sept. 20]. Sen. Jesse Helms introduced the resolution with words that indicated that the Census Bureau believes marriage to be unimportant. He further suggested that the Census Bureau is promoting a social agenda because the short form includes two questions about race.

The Census Bureau has no social agenda. It is a statistical agency with a statistical agenda. Short-form questions go to 100 percent of the population. They are very short to reduce respondent burden, as required by Congress. Redistricting and enforcement of the Voting Rights Act are the reasons that the short form includes two questions on race and ethnicity as well as a question on age.

One in six households will receive the long form. This will allow the Census Bureau to describe accurately the nation's population and housing characteristics at appropriate levels of aggregation. The country will be well informed about such important issues as marital status, education, transportation, housing, occupation and veteran status.

Every question in Census 2000, short or long form, is mandated by law or required to fulfill a federal function. Law also requires that we present to Congress our proposed questionnaires, as we did on March 31, 1998. We received no congressional comment then regarding the marital question.

Census 2000 will be successful only if the American public cooperates by completing and returning the questionnaires. Were the public to be falsely persuaded that the Census Bureau has a social rather than statistical agenda, their cooperation could be adversely affected.

KENNETH PREWITT

Director

U.S. Bureau of the Census

Washington