Steven Murdock has spent decades tracking numbers of people and getting to know a little about who they are. Now the Texas state demographer is up for the top job: director of the United States Census Bureau. The confirmation process means convincing Congress he can use his Texas experience to fix a struggling agency. Elizabeth Wynne Johnson reports from Washington.
The confirmation hearing for a new number-cruncher-in-chief began with a litany of woes. Senator Susan Collins of Maine cited persistent problems with new technology, data processing and cost-overruns.
“Add to these issues is an ever-present problem of inaccurat! e counting, whether it’s over- or under-counting. It is evident that the next Census director will have his hands full.”
In 2000, the Census cost about $6 billion. The 2010 count is projected at more than $11 billion. One of the cost-culprits: hand-held computers used by census-takers in the field. They’re supposed to save time and money. But they’re not working as planned. And a last-minute reversion to a paper-based system will cost big.
“What I can commit to you is that- I will find out where we stand. And will aggressively pursue the funding levels that we need to have a complete Census.”
Murdock said the job is harder than it used to be. Diverse languages and cultures, plus alternative living arrangements, make it harder to get accurate counts. He promised to bolster confidentiality. And to do better by the historically under-counted: minorities, young people and renters. He cited the successful us! e of ‘partnerships’ in the colonias of south Texas.
“By getting local people, people who were parts of those communities, as members of the partnership organizations, we were able to get info that we had missed, or that had been missed by the Census in previous periods.”
The senators didn’t ask, and Murdock did not address, the logistical and political challenges associated with a growing population of illegal immigrants.
He says in many ways the government is getting MORE than it used to. In the past, the socio-economic snapshot taken once at the start of each decade had to last for ten years. Now data is collected annually.
“So it’s not like we’re getting the same products. We are getting substantially improved products and increased products that should help you in the Congress as you govern our population and the public and the private sector.”
The Senate committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs will vote on the nomination of Steven Murdock as direc! tor of the Census today. If he passes, it’s on to the House floor.
From Capitol News Connection in Washington, I’m Elizabeth Wynne Johnson, Houston Public Radio News