April 3rd, 2009
09:46 AM ET

Dear President Obama #74: Some people you just can't count on

Reporter's Note: President Obama, although overseas, has asked for advice on how to run the country, and I assume the request still holds, international boundaries not withstanding. So I continue writing a letter a day.

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/US/03/19/wtja.economy.jobs/art.census.taker.jpg]

Tom Foreman | Bio
AC360° Correspondent

Dear Mr. President,

It’s hard to imagine, with a whole ocean between you and the White House, how you could step so deeply into an anthill here. But just in case you’re not getting the newspapers (well, I guess not much of anyone is getting the newspapers anymore, come to think of it) you should know that you have the whole Republican colony swarming over the census. Yes, the census!

This is one of those deep, inside-baseball, political things that make most voters shrug, but you know precisely what I’m talking about. The Associated Press says they know who you are going to pick to run the 2010 Census, and it’s a guy that already has the GOP pulling out the longbows. Does the AP have this right? University of Michigan professor who favors statistical adjustments to the actual count?

I have to say, from an outsider’s point of view, a census looks like a time-consuming, but relatively simple undertaking. You just go count everybody, right? But of course in DC even a cheese sandwich is complicated. So already the Government Accountability Office is saying the 2010 Census is in trouble; the Census Bureau is falling behind schedule, and struggling with handheld computers that are supposed to help the “enumerators” with their work.

Maybe no one would be worried, but since the count helps establish everything from an area’s Congressional representation, to its voting lines, to the amount of government money it might get, I can understand why people in both parties take the process pretty darn seriously. And of course, each party accuses the other of trying to manipulate who gets counted, and of twisting the numbers, and on and on and on it goes.

It’s so depressing to watch you political types sometimes. I mean, think about it, if you all can’t agree on something as basic as how to count, how are you ever going to make us trust you again with more complex matters?

Here’s an idea: the 2010 Census is expected to cost about $15-billion. Let’s just give everyone who comes forward to be counted a dollar, we’ll keep a running tally, and Bob’s-Your-Uncle, there’s a census! After all, who’s going to pass up a free dollar these days? And even if we have considerably more than 300-million people, we’ll still save a bundle.

All kidding aside, good luck working this one out. The census is supposed to start one year from this week. But I’m not sure if anyone is counting on that at this point.

Hey, I hope you have sent me some postcards from over there. You know how much everyone likes getting mail!



Find more of the Foreman Letters, here.

soundoff (6 Responses)
  1. deb

    I know we probably need a head count, but it's never accurate. Seems like a huge waste of time & money – although those who are involved in the process would not have jobs otherwise.

    We need to eliminate waste wherever we can – so why can't we just use a google grid, extimate the # of people per block on the grid and then square off all the districts. Some congressional districts are so convoluted that it's insane (see Virginia for an example).

    I love the KISS method of everything: keep it simple, stupid!

    April 3, 2009 at 2:14 pm |
  2. Annie Kate

    Some people think that filling out a census gives the government too much information on them and the gov't doesn't need to know their business. The census is so simple – just who lives at each address and how are they related. The IRS tax form discloses a lot more information than that...and while we would all like to not fill one of those out no one makes it out to be a government conspiracy to find out your inner secrets. Its ridiculous.

    April 3, 2009 at 2:04 pm |
  3. Michael "C" Lorton, Virginia

    They can't keep track and accountability of the billions of dollars that were injected into the Market Place and failing institutions--–do you think that anyone is going to believe any census number that they come up with? Just another venue to spend 15 billion dollars.

    April 3, 2009 at 1:33 pm |
  4. meenas17

    Census appears ridiculous. Counting , becomes a difficult start point for politicians, They disaree to agree,
    How Funny!

    April 3, 2009 at 12:27 pm |
  5. JustplainJay

    Maybe we could kill two birds with one stone and give each person $50,000 ($15B/300M people) and stimulate the economy. I'm sure if you said come down to the polling station and get your $50k check, you would have a great turnout; and you would get answers to any questions you wanted to know.

    April 3, 2009 at 12:13 pm |
  6. m

    The census provides a ballpark estimate at best. It's better done at a local level versus run by the feds. Let the towns manage them, send the count to the county, then state. Consolidate it at the state level and send it to the feds. It's as good of a method as any. The data will be no less accurate. Have cities hit every home that has a water bill. As far as that goes, use the data from tax returns if you want to make it easy and use readily available information. Odds are the people who don't file aren't going to do the census either.

    April 3, 2009 at 10:32 am |