Bad idea, ASA

While I support the idea of giving the Bureau of the Census more autonomy and making it less susceptible to political influence, I really don’ t think that passing a bill during a lame duck session of Congress, especially after the historic change we saw in November, is any expression of the Will of the People.  I think my professional society, the American Statistical Association, is being a bit too opportunistic here.

Dear ASA Members,
I write to request your help to increase the autonomy of the U.S. Census Bureau – the largest federal statistical agency – by calling your Congressman/Congresswoman today and urging that he/she support S. 3167. (See below.) Please call as soon as possible as the House will be considering the bill today.
In order to find the phone number of your U.S. House Representative’s Washington office, enter your zipcode at http://www.house.gov/zip/ZIP2Rep.html. Your message to the staff answering the phone can be as simple as:
“Please support S. 3167.”

For additional talking points and background, read on. (Do not use government resources to make this call.)

S. 3167/H.R. 4945, the “Census Oversight Efficiency and Management Reform Act of 2010,” was introduced in March in both the House and Senate with the bipartisan cosponsorship of Senator Thomas Carper (D-DE), Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK), Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), and Congressman Charles Dent (R-PA). (The House version is H.R. 4945.) The bill helps to insulate the U.S. Census Bureau from outside influence by increasing its autonomy in the following ways:
• Setting a five-year term for the director of the Census Bureau;
• Allowing the director to report directly to the Secretary of Commerce;
• Allowing the director to submit his or her own opinion in testimony to Congress even if it differs from the administration; and
• Giving the director authority over all personnel and inactivities in the exercise of all powers and duties of the bureau, and the ability to establish advisory committees to provide advice with respect to any function of the director.
ASA leadership believes these provisions will help ensure professional management of this major scientific agency.
Last week, the Senate passed the bill (S. 3167) unanimously. If the House passes the Senate-version before this Congress adjourns in the days ahead, it can go to the President for his consideration. Failure to act or passing a different version would mean starting over with the bill in the new Congress. (If the House passed a different version, there wouldn’t be time to reconcile the two versions before this Congress recesses.)
After the ASA Board of Directors endorsed the pre-cursor bill to H.R. 4945 (which would have removed the Census Bureau from the Commerce Department entirely), the ASA has supported this bill by signing letters of support and a press release:
http://www.amstat.org/outreach/pdfs/CensusOversightBill4-19.pdf
http://www.amstat.org/outreach/pdfs/2010MaloneyDentCensusBill.pdf
http://www.amstat.org/about/pressreleases/ASAUrgesPassageofCOEMRA.pdf
The previous directors of the Census Bureau have endorsed the measure. The letters above also demonstrate broad support of this bill.
Thank you for your consideration. We in the ASA leadership believe this is a unique and important opportunity for the largest federal statistical agency.
Contact ASA Director of Science Policy Steve Pierson with any questions: 703.302.1841. The Senate passed bill is viewable at http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/BILLS-111s3167es/pdf/BILLS-111s3167es.pdf.
Sincerely,
Sally C. Morton
2009 ASA President

This is just a bit too close to rent-seeking for me (“Do not use government resources to make this call.”)

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