Brownwood Bulletin

Census Day 2010 is less than two years away, and the countdown to the national head count that takes places every decade seems anxiously close. Like every census before it, the results will have a sweeping effect on a host of government funded programs whose grants are based on population and other demographics.

Then, thereís the matter of how the boundaries of Congressional districts and other jurisdictions in state and local governments are drawn.

The Americans who are most affected by such programs, racial minorities and the poor, are unfortunately the groups who are most likely to be undercounted. Demographic experts say these are the residents most likely not to have permanent addresses, and most likely to resist returning government forms when those papers do manage to get to them.

The Washington Post reported earlier this month that there are concerns the Census Bureau may not be fully prepared to tackle the door-to-door follow-up necessary to ensure a complete and thorough count.

In April, the bureau decided not to move forward with plans to replace the traditional paper and pencil surveys with handheld computers when collecting data door-to-door. Computers were not properly programmed, and many census workers had difficulty operating them. Then, a test-run of the 2010 Census was scaled back because time limitations prevented training workers unfamiliar with the old paper-and-pencil process.

The cost of reverting to the paper forms could be as much as an unbudgeted $3 billion, in addition to the $11.5 billion already set aside. But itís money that will have to be spent. Too much is riding on the governmentís ability to produce a head count thatís as accurate as possible. Otherwise, the effectiveness and efficiency of a host of well-meaning programs in the areas of education, housing, health care and social services will be compromised.