MR. JOST: (In progress)
-- from the local dignitaries that are here and by Director Prewitt, and
then we'll throw it open to questions and answers. We will have mikes to
help everybody out. So, if you can, when you get your mike, identify
yourself and your affiliation. And thank you for joining us.
CHIEF STINNET: Good morning and welcome.
I'm Chief Stinnet. I'm chief of the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue
Department, and I want to thank all of you all for joining us here this
morning for this very important event. But I also want to take the
opportunity to thank the men and the women who are working here today at
Fire Station 18. They join the other men and women who provide a valuable,
24-hour-a-day, seven-days-a-week service to our citizens. So, when I have
the opportunity in public to thank them, I certainly want to do that.
Thank you all.
As you know, service is a two-way street.
The citizens call on the fire department when they need us. Today, we're
asking them to join us and the Census Bureau during our time of need, and
for them to fill out and return their census forms. Being in the fire
service, I cannot overemphasize the need to have the resources you need to
do your job.
The census forms and the census information
and data are vital to all the agencies in the county to provide services,
so that they can provide services to our citizens. There is no doubt that
proper resources save lives. Proper funding allows us to have better
equipment, maintain our training and provide the highest level of service
to our citizens. Again, it is important that everyone take the personal
responsibility to fill out and return their census forms. It's certainly a
win-win situation for everybody.
Now, I would like to take the opportunity
to introduce Dr. Kenneth Prewitt. Dr. Prewitt has been the director of the
U.S. Census Bureau since October 1998. He was nominated by the president
and confirmed by the U.S. Senate. Prior to joining the Census Bureau, he
served as the president of the Social Science Research Council.
Previously, he was the senior vice president of the Rockefeller
Foundation. Also, he taught for 15 years at the University of Chicago.
Currently, at the Census Bureau, Dr.
Prewitt's main attention is focused on the operations of Census 2000. The
issues are not limited to counting the approximately 275 million residents
in about 120 million housing units, but also the impact this particular
census will have on the American communities. Dr. Prewitt utilizes his
social science training to provide expertise in grappling with the many
complex and often difficult issues at the Census Bureau.
During the last several months, Dr. Prewitt
has traveled throughout the country speaking to communities about the
bureau's How America Knows What America Needs program, which is
designed to help motivate the communities to participate in the Census
2000 and renew America's sense of civil engagement.
Please join me in welcoming Dr. Prewitt.
DR. PREWITT: Thank you very much, Chief.
This is a really remarkable opportunity --
the hospitality and the opening up of the facilities. I do want to, of
course, bring to all of our attention that this is a serious functioning
fire department, and you can't predict emergencies. So if the bell rings,
they're out of here; we will understand that, and we'll wish you well.
We'll know that you'll go to the right destinations, in part because
you're drawing upon TIGER maps from the Census Bureau and census data to
know where you need to go, and what kind of services you need to provide.
Let me just quickly introduce Sue Hardy,
who is our regional director based in Charlotte, but is responsible for
the census in this part of the country, also Tina Hone, who is a neighbor
of the Fire Department 18, but is also with the Commerce Department and
has responsibilities there for the census, and the delegate from Virginia,
Mr. Hall. Thank you very much for joining us.
And then I do want to introduce for a few
comments Carol Burley Brown, who is the United States fire administrator.
She has served as an advocate for the kinds of activities that we see
witnessed here today -- to use our emergency services and our fire
departments around the country to reduce the loss of life and property due
to fire. And she does understand, of course, the importance of the census.
She will speak to that herself. It's a great pleasure that she's going to
join us out here today and kick off this event.
MS. BROWN: Good morning. It gives me great
pleasure to join Fire Chief Ed Stinnet, Dr. Ken Prewitt, Battalion Chief
Dewey, all of the platform guests and especially the men and women of Fire
Station 18. Really this is a perfect place to showcase America's heroes.
Every day in this county, these men and women respond to almost 80,000
fire events, fire and rescue events in this county -- all sorts of
emergencies. They are the 911 responders. To me, they are our heroes. As
we search around America for heroes, some of us look to professional
basketball and football teams, but you don't have to look any farther than
stations such as 18, the Jefferson Station. These are men and women who
put their lives on the line daily to protect this county, but also they
are representative of the 1.2 million men and women -- career, volunteer
and combined departments that put their lives on the line to protect
But there is something very special, as
well, about this fire department in Fairfax County. Along with protecting
and responding to almost 80,000 fire and rescue events, they are also
called upon nationally and internationally to respond to events because of
their specialized expertise. In fact, I understand that they're getting
ready to go back to the fifth year anniversary of one of our worst
tragedies in this country, the Oklahoma City event. These men and women
from Station 18 responded to that event. So, it shows you the wide
spectrum of events and disasters and emergencies that they have to and are
called upon to respond to.
The census is very important for these
heroes, because based on our counting, county executives and officials can
make determinations as to how, where and what they will utilize, and how
much funding for fire stations, for how many firefighters they need, but
it also helps in planning locally. If a fire station knows how many folks
are in an area, what their ages are, whether they're young, whether
they're older citizens, that helps them to better respond to those events.
But you can also kick it up to another level. The Federal Emergency
Management Agency and other federal agencies that are called upon to
respond and support local jurisdictions such as Fairfax County can also
better respond to events and support the efforts of state and local
governments in responding to fires, earthquakes and other sorts of
But now, getting back to the Oklahoma City
event: On behalf of President Clinton and Vice President Gore, Chief
Stinnet, I want to thank you and your department for what you did in
response to a very tragic event, which vividly emphasized the risk that
you have to take, and all of the myriad disasters and events that our
emergency fire and rescue personnel have to face. I know that they have
been to Taiwan; they have been to Greece; they have been to Turkey. They
have been around the world. They have been called because of their unique
expertise as well. But it's made very clear on a daily basis that their
primary responsibility is with their location here in Fairfax County.
The almost 80,000 calls that they have to respond to, that's their primary
mission. But to do a better job of it, they need a better count of the
residents of the households that they have to respond to.
Now, let me take it to a national
perspective. As the nation's top fire official, I want to talk from that
perspective. While fire deaths have been declining, in this country we
have the largest [number of] fire death[s] in the industrialized world.
In other words, 4,000 people die every year as a result of fires. And if
you look at that, if you really look at that, you're talking about
populations of the very young, the very old. You're talking about rural
America; you're talking about urban America. You're talking about ethnic
minorities, such as African Americans, and Latinos. The very populations
that are undercounted -- those that are hardest hit. So it has a very
direct correlation to the fire service in this country, in Fairfax County,
providing efficient and effective services to the households that live
here. It is an honor for me to be here with America's heroes: the fire
and rescue service. I urge every household in Fairfax County and
throughout the nation to support our heroes by filling out the census
Thank you very, very much.
DR. PREWITT: Thank you very, very much,
And if I can now bring to the podium
Battalion Chief Dewey Parks, who is the battalion chief for the fire and
rescue. I thought you introduced yourself earlier and you called yourself
the program manager. I want to make sure I get it right, the program
manager. He's a 28-year-old veteran of the department. As has just been
mentioned, he and his team have served in some of our toughest spots:
Oklahoma City, and also, I believe, served in Nairobi, the bombing there
of the embassy and the Olympic Games in Atlanta. This is one of the
places in the United States where, when there is an emergency, they go out
and start working on it. Their task is to try to save as many lives as
possible. They're pulling live people out of damaged buildings, bombed
buildings. They really are our heroes. They are courageous people. I was
just told before we started that 400 of them are volunteers, and it's
really just a remarkable thing the kind of service they do for this
country. As has already been said, and I will say it again, we owe them
something. The least we can give them is good information so they can do
their job right.
So, if you would, Mr. Parks, join us.
CHIEF PARKS: You're about to see why we're
better at rescue than we are at public speaking. Throughout the course of
our nation's history, Americans have always known that in times of need we
can count on each other. As a representative of the public safety
community of Fairfax County, we stand ready to respond to any emergency
that might arise. And, in essence, that's what our task force is all
But in a larger sense, we also stand ready
to travel anywhere in our great country with three simple goals: to try to
save lives, lend a hand and make a difference in someone's life.
Resources save lives, and in our business,
time is always our enemy. We know that if we can reach our citizens that
happen to have succumbed to cardiac arrest, that if we can get there
within four to six minutes, we've got a great chance of resuscitating them
and returning them to their families. That's about the same amount of
time that it takes to be counted in this year's census.
We're more than used to being counted on in
pressure situations. But now we need your help. Often we are referred to
as heroes, but our fellow Americans are really the true heroes. Our
citizens have always been there when it counts. All we're simply
requesting is that everyone take the time to again make a difference in
the way we and all of America can do business. It's now your turn to lend
a hand, and make a difference and be counted on as an American.
DR. PREWITT: Well, I think you can be a
public speaker if you change careers.
Let me just say a few more words then. I
would like to first make sure that we all do recognize all of the members
of Fire Department 18 up here. I'm tempted to ask them -- in fact, I'll
take a chance and find out from them how many of them have completed their
form. And might I say, how does that compare with the audience? Not bad
that we still have a response rate in the audience; we don't have a
response rate among our heroes. And so we've simply got to take our cue
from this kind of commitment to American society that you witness here
Just pause for a moment and make sure that
we get some of the facts down about the census and the long form, the
kinds of data that are collected and how they are used. Obviously, a
place like the Fire Department 18 here in Fairfax County is fundamentally
a local operation. It gets most of its resources from the local
community. Station 18 is a special one, of course, because it does do
international and national work as well, and when it does that it
obviously draws from federal resources. But fundamentally it is a local
initiative, as is true of our fire departments across the country.
And so, you ask yourself, why do they need
the national attention that this census is trying to bring to this cause.
I just want to emphasize once again the role of data, the role of
information in trying to make certain that these kind of services function
When Hurricane Andrew hit south Florida,
the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Red Cross, and other
emergency personnel had already in their possession, in their files, in
their systems, the Census Bureau TIGER line digital map files. And they
married those maps with the address ranges and demographic data in order
to know where to put the emergency teams, where to locate shelters, where
to distribute foods and medicines and how to rapidly evacuate. The maps
enabled them to find where obliterated streets once ran, and how many
housing units were on them. That story is repeated time and time and time
again. This is real technical information, technical maps, well drawn,
spotting the houses, spotting the communities, telling us where people
have phones and don't have phones, what their age structure is, are they
And if you want to really save lives, you
want that piece of information. People ask me, for example, why in the
world on the census form do you ask how old is this structure? Well, you
know, the fire department wants to know how old that structure is. It
tells them something about the risks that they may take when they go into
that burning building. Buildings built in 1920 are differently
constructed than buildings built in 1960. So the structure of the housing
units in a neighborhood tell them something that they need to know when
they're doing their task.
So, across the census form there are dozens
of items that, put together, give you a picture of a community, that allow
you to do the kind of tasks that you want to do. I just simply have to
repeat that you take a simple little question: "Why in the world," I'm
asked, "do you want to ask if people have telephones? In this day and age,
doesn't everyone have a telephone?" Well, no, everyone doesn't have a
telephone. And if you're planning a 911 service, you want to know what the
telephone density is in a community, in rural areas.
You use that 911 information, then, in
combination with other census information to decide how to dispatch
emergency services, where the ambulance routes need to be, what the
estimated driving time is. These are sophisticated operations and they
rest upon intelligent data.
You know, I'm tempted to say that if you go
back to the beginning of the 18th century, and you begin to ask yourself,
well, how in the world did this country build its strong economy, its
industrial economy? We built an industrial economy with a certain kind of
infrastructure. That infrastructure includes railroads, canals and ports.
The country has turned a corner. It's now building a knowledge economy.
And what is the infrastructure for a knowledge economy? Information is
the infrastructure for a knowledge economy. And the information that this
country needs, this economy needs, including emergency services, but way
beyond emergency services, the information that this country needs comes
from the basic decennial census data. It's the platform on which all
kinds of other information is generated.
So, if we're going to have a kind of an
economy that we can call the knowledge economy, we're going to have to
have a new kind of infrastructure, and that is going to be very
information dense. And in the absence of good information from the
decennial census, this country cripples itself economically. It cripples
itself in many, many ways. I really urge the American people to understand
that when they fill out that census form, they are actually making a
contribution to the economic well-being of their country -- to the
educational well-being of their country, and also, of course, to emergency
The main purpose of the census, as we know,
is to redistribute houses, seats in the House of Representatives. That's
what it was put in the Constitution for. But I remind us that what the
Constitution says is that the Census Bureau shall conduct the census as by
law Congress shall declare. And since 1790, the United States Congress has
been asking the Census Bureau to ask other kinds of questions beyond the
elementary head count.
In 1820, we did a census of manufacturing.
Actually, it wasn't a very good census, and it wasn't very good data, but
we keep improving it. They wanted us to keep working on it, and we kept
working on it, and by the 1860s and '70s, we had a good census of
manufacturing. It took some time to get it right. That's just one example
of how the country, over the last 200 years, has constantly put the task
to the Census Bureau to give us better and better information about our
society and about our economy. And so when we ask questions today in 2000,
we are building upon a tradition that goes all the way back to the early
So, right from the beginning, the task,
yes, was reapportionment, and, yes, was a head count. But it was always
also: Could you govern the country more intelligently? Could the business
community, the commercial sector of the country use these data in order to
make a stronger economy?
Let's give you one other example. People
say to me, "Why in the world do you ask about veteran status?" Well, we
put that question on the census form in 1840 because the veterans, just
like the fire department, have made a sacrifice for our country. Now we
have veterans who fought in World War II, who fought in the Korean War who
are now 70 or 80 years old, who are elderly, who perhaps live alone, who
perhaps can't bathe themselves, that is, who perhaps have disabilities. We
want to put a veterans hospital and nursing care where they are, and how
do we know where they are if we don't have information on veteran status,
on age, on living alone, and on disability? So that's why the questions
are there: to make sure that this country can pay back the people who have
sacrificed to build this country and to defend this country.
There are many,
many examples of this. We use today as a marvelous symbolic moment about
how Census information, this simple task, 10-minute task, long form 40-45
minute task, across the households of America can actually make this a
stronger country. Census data, Census Day is now only two days away. April
1st, Census Day, is when we want the forms back. As many of you know,
about 50 percent of the American households have now returned their form
-- not quite, but close to 50 percent. We hope to be at 50 percent by
April 1st. We have a long way to go to make this a successful census.
The heroes up here have said time and
again, every one of them, one way or the other, that they cannot do their
job unless the American people play their role, unless they step up and
perform as heroes to do this elementary task. This information is going to
sustain our country and our economy for a decade. If it is deeply flawed,
if it's incomplete, if we have a bad response rate, the country will
suffer accordingly. So that's what we want to say this morning.
We want to say, again, "Thank you," to the
chief, and his team for hosting this event, for allowing us to come into
their services, for the opportunity to hear about their work and to
celebrate with them this marvelous civic moment, which is what a census
should be. It's a moment where this kind of commitment that you see up on
the platform is made across this country. So I say again as I've said
before, it is a civic moment, it is a civic responsibility to mail in the
census form as soon as possible, so we can provide the kind of information
that the country needs for the kinds of tasks it has in front of it.
So with that we'll open up to your
MR. ROCHELLE: The conservative members of
Congress are telling the public not to answer questions, they don't have
to answer the questions, and in fact --
DR. PREWITT: Can you identify yourself?
MR. ROCHELLE: It's Carl Rochelle with CNN,
and I'll repeat the question for you. Some conservative members of
Congress are saying that it's not necessary to answer the questions on the
test, on the census form. They're actually going to the extent of telling
them they don't need to answer the questions and they shouldn't. What's
your response to that?
DR. PREWITT: My response is actually
fairly simple. I think that when the members of Congress pause and take a
look at the long form, at the questions, at the law of the land, and they
understand how the information is being used, my guess is that they will
realize that it actually is needed, this information. There is no question
on the long form which has not been put there, because it's either in the
law, or it's required by a law. That is, the law cannot be executed in the
absence of this information. My hope is, of course, that across the
country, as indeed millions and millions and millions of people are now
doing, that people will recognize how this information is both legally
important, but it's also socially and economically important. So I'm only
hopeful that our leadership will stand up and urge the American people to
complete this census form.
MR. ROCHELLE: One would believe that the
members of Congress have read the census form and know what is on it. Are
they counseling their constituents, the citizens of this country, to break
the law by not filling it out?
DR. PREWITT: It is a law to complete the
census form. It's a law the U.S. Congress passed, not the Census Bureau.
The Census Bureau is not an enforcement agency, it is a statistical
agency, and we simply leave it to others to both write the laws and to
administer the laws. Our job is to simply count as best we can. So I will
have to leave your question about whether they're actually counseling the
breaking of a law to members of the enforcement agencies, not members of a
MR. POWELL: I'm Stuart Powell with the
Hearst Newspapers. I just wanted to ask whether you detected any evidence
that this effort by members of Congress, and I guess this is an issue on
talk shows, whether this has depressed the response rate that you had
hoped to see.
DR. PREWITT: It's an important question to
which I don't yet have an answer. We will obviously be looking into it
very closely, because my concern, quite honestly, is that though I've
heard no member of Congress urge someone not to send in a form, they only
said you may choose the way in which you wish to answer the questions, but
you may not not send in your form. So no member of Congress to my
knowledge is suggesting not sending in the form. Certain talk show hosts
have made that as part of their message. I would only say that the
American public, of course, is attentive to the census up to a certain
level. They have other things on their mind than the census. And I'm
concerned that the message is not completely understood -- that it might
get translated as, "Oh well, this information isn't very important after
all," and that would concern me a lot. We do not today have any evidence
that response rate has been affected by this widespread accusation, if you
would, that the long form is intrusive, and none of government's business.
It's very hard to do that as the forms are
flowing in by the millions, of course. I was in our national processing
center in Jeffersonville, Indiana, just yesterday, and we were looking
very hard to see if we could detect anything in the pattern of the long
and the short form. But it's such a mammoth operation, it's extremely
difficult at this stage to know. We will be working on that very quickly,
because we really feel a constitutional obligation to count everyone in
this country. And if we think that any set of activities is going to keep
us from doing that, then we will do whatever we can do by way of
MR. GUZMAN: Armando Guzman with Univision.
How do you react to the fact that in spite of your campaign, many people
are still not sending those forms. I remember you told us some time ago
that you wanted to have at least 62 percent of responses by Census Day.
Why do you think that is?
DR. PREWITT: Let me just get the numbers
back in your mind again. In 1995, 65 percent mailed it back in, and then
we went out and knocked on the doors of everyone else, and ended up
counting about 98.5 percent of the population. Our own budgeted goal, not
goal, but our budgeted number for 2000 is 61 percent. It's not what we
wanted, but that's what we feared we might get. Therefore, we have to
budget and staff at a certain level, and 61 percent is that. We did not
necessarily say we had to have 61 percent by April 1st. We go out into the
field in later April to start knocking on the doors. We close down the
mail-back part of the census on April 11-12. Then we get prepared, gather
our materials and go out to knock on the doors. So we're still a long way
from knowing whether we're going to get to 61 percent or even 65 percent.
As you know, we've challenged the country
to improve its mail-back response rate by 5 percent over 1990. That would
take us to 70 percent across the country. We have a long way to go to get
to that 70 percent. But I'm not saying here, today, that we won't get any
given number. I just cannot predict what the American people are going to
do. Census Day itself, Saturday, is a big day for us. We hope there is
what we would call kind of an "April 1st effect"-- that a lot of people
are still holding their forms and will be mailing it back in. At the end
of the day not everybody will. So I'm simply not prepared yet. I will sort
of be a week from now, but I'm not prepared yet to say that we will not
get either 61 or 65 or 70 percent.
The reason that people don't mail them back
in, you know as well as I do, that there is in this country a declining
level of civic responsibility, of civic commitment, of civic obligation,
not, for example, witnessed up here on this platform, but somehow in the
broader country. What we hope is by having the heroes, and I want to use
that again, and I mean that in a very kind of direct way, men and women
who go in and save lives, and risk their lives to do it, have got to be
called heroes, because that's what they are, and the fact that they will
do this, and somehow the rest of the American population sits there and
won't do a 10, or a 30 minute, or a 40 minute task can only concern us.
And we've got to do something in this country about reversing that decline
of civic responsibility.
MS. MARTRELL: Jane Martrell with NBC News.
I went to a lot of your briefings prior to the release of the form, and
you planned for everything. But, what was your reaction when you first
heard the rumblings that people were being told they don't have to fill
out questions they feel uncomfortable about?
DR. PREWITT: Well, it's extremely
difficult for a census to plan for everything. We can plan for everything
operationally, but you cannot easily plan for things that happen sort of
out of your system. And this is not the first time that there have been
expressed concerns about the long-form questions and the intrusiveness.
We worked very, very hard to reduce the long form, the number of
questions. We worked with Congress to do that; this long form and this
short form are the shortest ever, well not ever, ever. The very first
census was a little shorter than this one, but not much shorter than
today's short form. On the long form, which began in 1940, we reduced it
in 2000. It is, in fact, the shortest long form in history. And we moved
questions from the short form to the long form, so that most of the
American public would get the least amount of burden possible. Every
question on the short form is there because we need geographically refined
data, particularly to administer the Civil Rights Acts and the Voting
Rights Act of the 1964-65 period.
So we did what we could do to operationally
reduce this burden. And to answer your question more directly, it's very
difficult to plan for things that come from outside the system that are a
threat to a quality census. It's just very, very difficult. We have tried
to explain the long form, the need for these data, time and again in
different forums, we have certainly tried to explain to the members of the
U.S. Congress. Every one of the questions, of course, went to the U.S.
Congress three years ago, and then again two years ago. Three years ago,
we submitted to the Congress: "These are the topics that as best we
understand the law of the land we have to ask. Do you agree with us?" And
the answer is yes, or no. If no, fine. If it's yes, and it was yes for
the most part, then a year later, that is two years ago today, we
submitted to Congress the way we were going to ask the questions. "Do you
have any trouble with the way in which we're asking them?" Two years ago
that went to all 535 members of the United States Congress, and we got a
few comments back, took those into account and tried to make
As some of you know, the Senate of the
United States, a couple of months ago passed a sense of the Senate
resolution saying, 94-0, as I recall that vote, that they were very upset
that we had taken a question off of the short form and put it on the long
form -- that is the question of marital status. So Congress is sending us
more than one signal with respect to what kinds of questions they want us
to be asking. We are only asking questions that are there, because there
is a piece of legislation, there is a law, it's either mandated in the law
or the law cannot be administered in the absence of this information.
MS. : Did the Census Bureau receive any
letter or phone calls from these conservative Republicans who find the
questionnaire intrusive? Has there been any contact?
DR. PREWITT: No, we've not received any
official word. I did talk to the majority leader myself a couple of days
ago. And he expressed some of these concerns to me, and I expressed my own
concern that we very much needed this information in order to carry out
the law of the land. But, no, we don't have any official piece of paper
from any member of Congress giving us any contrary instructions to what we
MR. MEYERS: Meyers of the Tulsa World.
Could you respond to the talk that some members of Congress would like to
suspend or repeal the $100 fine for not filling out the census form, since
you have not prosecuted anyone in the country. Could you respond to that?
DR. PREWITT: Right. Again, I say that the
Census Bureau itself is, of course, not an enforcement agency. It wouldn't
prosecute. The Department of Justice would have to do the prosecution, and
we don't recommend that. As most of you know, not since 1960 has there
been any attempt to prosecute someone who did not complete the census
form. And I again have to turn it over to the enforcement agency to decide
whether they consider any of the current behavior to merit that kind of
attention. The magnitude of the fine, I suspect, is not what's at stake
here. There are American people, by the way, who actually do send in the
form because they do recognize it's mandatory.
Indeed, the census did a lot of studies on
that. The census envelope used to say back in the 1950, '40, '60 period
that this was mandated by law. I think starting in 1970 we took that off
of the census envelope, and we have studies that suggest that's one of the
reasons that mail-back response rate began to decline. So we put it back
on 2000, in order to remind the American people that this is a legal
obligation, and we're hopeful that will have some affect upon some people.
Certainly, some of my private communication, that is e-mail and letters
that I get from around the country, do refer to the fact that they do
recognize, even though this is a nuisance, they do recognize that this is
a legal obligation, as well as a civic obligation, and that does motivate
MR. : [Inaudible.]
DR. PREWITT: I must say I'm quite
indifferent to the magnitude of the fine. I'm not even sure that the
number that's being quoted, by the way, the $100 number is correct. There
were some changes in the census law some years ago, and some people
suggest the way in which it was changed implied that the fines were
actually higher than they currently are. So I, myself, am indifferent as
to the magnitude of the fine that would be imposed.
MS. FESSLER: Pam Fessler from NPR. I just
want to go back to something you said before. You said that you were going
to be looking at this really closely over the next few days, and if you
see something happening you were going to take corrective action. I'm
curious what kind of corrective action you could take. And my second
question is, when you were in Jeffersonville, did you get any indication
of a lot of people sending back forms in which they did only answer a few
of the questions, and leaving the rest blank?
DR. PREWITT: What we're primarily doing
now in our data capture centers is we are simply recording the fact that
the envelope is there. We are opening them up, we are making sure that
they are completed. The number of things that come into the census during
the census that even have nothing to do with the census, but are sometimes
-- look, the American citizens, many, many, many, many of them want to do
this right, and they are struggling to do it right. One of the things
they've done -- I looked at dozens and dozens of envelopes of this sort
the other day in Jeffersonville, they're only one person, so they fill in
the single person and then they tear the rest of the form and throw it
away, and only mail that single page back, which actually is for us a
problem, because it's a bar-code problem. But there are people doing it.
There are people putting stamps on it. We
have many, many envelopes that come in with $3 in it, and we're trying to
figure out why. Well, if you look at the envelope, the top of the
envelope, it says there's a $300 fine for misuse of this envelope for
other reasons, it's a post office fine, not a Census Bureau fine. We can
only imagine people see that $300 and read it as $3 and think that somehow
they're supposed to send in $3; we don't know. We had one envelope which
had seven $100 bills in it, and we concluded that must have been a serious
mistake. We went to a lot of trouble to track that person down, and have
now sent them a check for their money. So a lot of things are coming in.
Sorry, Pam, that's a long answer. All we're
doing at this stage is making sure that it is a legitimate form. We're
data scanning it, but we're not looking at the results of the data scan.
Here's what we're going to do; in fact, I'm going to work on this later
today. We're going to try to take a look at the long-form data and see if
you're getting a drop-off in the 100 percent questions. That is, the
long-form questionnaire also has the six key questions, the six-seven key
questions, and if there's a lower rate of completing those, than in the
short form, short form questions, that will be a very strong indicator to
us that we have a serious drop-off in terms of data quality.
In terms of taking corrective action, I
think all we can do is more of what we're doing today. All we can do is,
we will accelerate our campaign as best we can. You may say, "But it's too
late." Well, it's not too late in the following sense: We do have
non-response follow-up, and if questionnaires that come in that are very
incomplete -- if a long-form question has not been completed, we will then
make an effort to put that in the non-response follow-up pile. That, by
the way, is going to drive up the cost of the census, because we're going
to have a heavier non-response follow-up burden than we expected to have.
But we will go back out in the field and try again, try to explain to
people, try to convince them of the importance of this information. We
will not stop. We will work this task until we have done the best we can,
with the conditions under which we are operating.
MR. : --variation on a question you've
already been asked very early in your news conference. To what extent are
you concerned that headlines that say, question, Census Bureau's too nosy,
conservative talk show talk, and the public comments by public officials
will add to what you've described as this declining level of civic
responsibility and that people are just going to trash the forms?
DR. PREWITT: Well, I have a personal
concern of that sort. That is, I think the more that the census is
described as an inappropriate activity, the more the American people are
going to come to believe that it's an inappropriate activity, even though
it's not an inappropriate activity. But, yes, I have to worry, obviously,
about a characterization of the census as something which is either not
needed or is inappropriate or is intrusive or could somehow be turned
against you. Then, I have to worry about the fact that the American people
will say, "Why should we do this?"
Now, it won't be all of them, because we
are getting, after all, millions of forms. The American people have
engaged this. We are, as I say, close to a 50-percent response rate. We do
have, after the mail-back period, we have a major task ahead of us. We
have to go out and try to convince people who did not take the time to do
it, to go ahead and do it. And we will have to be on the streets with a
half-million employees trying to make that task happen. We will know when
we're knocking on the doors, as a matter of fact, if a lot of people
answer the door and say, look, I understand that this information is not
needed, it's not useful, it's intrusive. If the vocabulary that they feed
back to us is the vocabulary that they've gotten from talk shows or other
sources, then that will be for us a very important indicator, but at this
stage it's hard to make that judgment.
I do think I want to stress that I think
there's going to be, I hope, a serious bipartisan commitment to the long
form. Indeed, many of you know that the Congressional Monitoring Board has
not always been able to agree on the congressional and the presidential
side about the census. But I just received a letter from Mr. Blackwell,
the congressional co-chair, and Mr. Ehrlich, a presidential member,
stressing their commitment to the long form, saying that every question is
mandated by legislation in a federal court ruling, that the data are
essential to providing government services and, if the American people
don't complete this, that there will be unmet community needs. And it's
very encouraging to have the Congressional Monitoring Board stand up and
make this kind of bipartisan commitment to the importance of the long-form
MR. JAMES: Frank James with the Chicago
Tribune. I just wanted to get you to clarify something. Earlier you said
that it's up to the Justice Department to decide whether or not to enforce
the law here. If they were to come to you with a request for a
recommendation, what would you recommend at this point?
DR. PREWITT: As I say, I'm not an
enforcement officer, I'm only a statistician. Quite honestly, I don't want
to do anything. I don't want to do anything that will make this a less
successful census. And, if in my judgment, prosecution could create a
different kind of hero - that's the kind of hero that Eddie Rickenbacher
tried to be in 1960 by refusing to fill out his form - then I would be
very reluctant, because at this stage what we most care about is trying to
get to the American people, make them understand that this is important.
So I actually don't have a good answer to that question, because I would
have to weigh, at that stage, what the implications are for the response
of the American people.
We're talking about millions and millions
and millions of people who, over this weekend, will be sitting at their
kitchen tables, at their desks, with their families saying, am I going to
take the trouble to do this or not. And if the answer to that is "No," the
country will suffer, communities will suffer, we will have a less
effective database on which to govern this country and build our economy.
That's the only thing I care about. The only thing I care about is giving
this country the kind of information that the decennial census provides at
the very best level, and most accurate level we can do. So that's the only
criteria that I - my head would be full of -- that issue, not judicial
issues or enforcement issues and so forth. And that's the way we would
have to weigh it.
Thank you very much.
[END OF EVENT.]
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