02.01.2009 0

Resisting the Politicization of the National Census

  • On: 02/09/2009 10:07:45
  • In: Economy
  • By William Warren

    If controlling the executive branch and maintaining a majority in both houses of Congress was not already enough power, President Obama is now poised to expand his sphere of authority to engulf the Census Bureau as well.

    According to a recent article in CQ Politics, President Obama’s administration will be keeping the as-yet-unnamed director of the Census Bureau on a tight leash and under a watchful eye. Adding an extra layer of significance to this is the fact that the next national head-counting—performed every 10 years—is scheduled for 2010.

    As the article explains, a senior White House official stated last Thursday that the director will “work closely with” the Obama administration—rather than reporting solely to the Commerce Secretary.

    This story comes on the heels of an even more troubling report the previous day that the Census Bureau director would “report directly to” the Obama administration and completely bypass the Commerce Secretary. Apparently, the White House officials toned down the rhetoric after Republicans “accused the White House of attempting to gain advantage in the politically delicate process of counting Americans and of violating the law by circumventing the Commerce secretary.”

    Although “working closely with” the White House may not be as foreboding as “reporting directly to” the White House, the overarching trend is the same: Barack Obama is attempting to seize control over the Census process. And seizing control is exactly how this ought to be viewed.

    Any effort on behalf of any presidential administration to politicize the census and stage a political power grab needs be met with steadfast resistance. As Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA), the top Republican on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, remarked:

    “Any attempt by the Obama administration to circumvent the census process for their political benefit will be met with fierce opposition as this ill-conceived proposal undermines a constitutionally obligated process that speaks to the very heart of our democracy.”

    As Rep. Issa further explains, such calculated circumvention of the Department of Commerce would mark a profound reversal of Title 13 of the U.S. Code. As it states, Census Bureau is to be administered “within, and under the jurisdiction of, the Department of Commerce”—not the White House.

    Moreover, the administration’s plans would specifically put White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel in a decision-making position with regards to Census Bureau activity. As Rep. Issa challenged:

    “This implies that President Obama intends on getting a count to his liking. It borders on overt political corruption.”

    There is a clear reason why the Census Bureau is constitutionally and legally detached from partisan politics. The need for such a deliberate separation was articulated by Rep. Issa and Representative Patrick McHenry (R-NC) in a recent letter to Obama. As it reads:

    “The constitutionally mandated decennial census needs to be fair, accurate and trusted. By circumventing the secretary of Commerce’s oversight of the Census Bureau and handing it directly to a political operative such as Mr. Emanuel, you are severely jeopardizing the fairness and accuracy of the 2010 census.”

    Yielding control of the Census to a partisan, self-interested presidential administration—overseen by the even more partisan Mr. Emanuel—is a recipe for disaster and an invitation for limitless corruption. The census determines a whole host of politically sensitive matters including, but not limited to, the allocation of electoral votes to individual states, the allocation representatives to individual states, and the dispersal of federal money to certain regions of the country.

    State-by-state Gerrymandering and congressional redistricting all rely on census data. Moreover, the funding of a wide range of Government programs is also determined from the results of the count. And this is just the tip of the iceberg.

    If such authority and responsibility is tainted by the corrupted self-interest inherent in Washington politics, the little trust Americans had in their government would surely dwindle to nothing.

    There is no question that the Census process should be firmly off-limits to politics. The firewall of separation that has guarded the delicate head-counting process from potential corruption must not be breached at this time.

    Barack Obama has promised transparency time and time again. Allowing him and Rahm Emanuel to dictate the activities of the Census Bureau would equate to nothing less than a veiled totalitarian power-grab and be yet another step away from the “hope and change” the Obama campaign so misleadingly promised the American people.

    William Warren is a contributing editor of ALG News Bureau.

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