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Lawmakers sue Commerce for adjusted census numbers

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  1. Freedom of Information

    NMU         CALIFORNIA, OREGON         Freedom of Information         Jul 20, 2001    

Lawmakers sue Commerce for adjusted census numbers

  • Alleging that the first wave of calculations based on raw data were inaccurate, the complaints request disclosure of statistically adjusted data.

Two lawsuits have been filed against the U.S. Department of Commerce as a result of its refusal to disclose adjusted data from the Census Bureau. Commerce Department attorneys are expected to answer the complaints at the end of July and in August.

Members of the House Government Reform Committee filed suit May 21 in federal district court in California and two Oregon state senators filed a suit on June 11 in federal district court in Oregon. Both suits are seeking to compel disclosure of the adjusted data from the 2000 census.

The complaint from the House committee stated that “recognizing that the raw population count … is not entirely accurate, the Bureau of the Census prepared a second set of data adjusting the population count by using well-known statistical techniques designed to correct errors in the census count.”

In March, the raw census data was released, but the bureau has yet to release the adjusted data, which is formulated by statistical analysis.

The New York Times reported that William G. Barron Jr., the director of the Census Bureau, said that the bureau may release the adjusted data but that it was necessary for the agency to verify the data’s reliability before its release. Barron said to do otherwise would be “inappropriate and irresponsible.”

The complaint further argued that the Census Act provides that the data should have been released a year from the census date or by April 1.

The complaint by state Sens. Margaret Carter (D) and Susan Castillo (D) seeks information under the Freedom of Information Act “for the purpose of evaluating state legislative districts, assuring a fair allocation of state funds, assuring that Oregon receives and equitable share of federal funds, and implementing Oregon public policy in the context of regional population shifts.”

Additionally, the complaint states that “it is generally recognized that the census undercounts the population, particularly African-Americans, Hispanics, Asian-Pacific Islanders, and American Indians. … States with large minority populations have requested that the Census Bureau correct the undercounts, and the Census Bureau has proposed the use of statistical adjustments as the correction technique.”

Ramona Oliver, director of communications for a project for the Democratic National Committee, said no one could determine whether the adjusted census data or the head count from the Census Bureau was more accurate in order to determine the need for the redistricting of election districts and government funding reforms.

She said census data are core pieces of information that determine representation and federal and state funds, which are “very critical issues for states and municipalities. We want to ensure that they have the best information possible. But until that information is released we can’t truly know what is the best information.”

(Carter v. Department of Commerce; Attorney: Thomas A. Balmer: Ater Wynne, Portland, Ore.; House of Representatives Committee on Government Reform v. Evans; Attorney: Marvin E. Krakow: Krakow & Kaplan, Los Angeles) AP

© 2001 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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