The Public Interest

The census wars

Peter Skerry

Winter 1992

LAST JULY, amid much controversy, Secretary of Commerce Robert Mosbacher announced that the Bush administration would not take advantage of sophisticated statistical methodology to adjust the 1990 Census figures. The Census Bureau had already reported its failure to count 5,268,127 individuals and Census Bureau Director Barbara Bryant publicly advocated adjustment. Still, the perceived political stakes were so high that Secretary Mosbacher’s decision surprised no one. Neither has litigation initiated by New York, California, and other states to force the Bureau to give them the adjusted numbers it refused to release back in July. One unanticipated development came on November 19, 1991, when the House Subcommittee on Census and Population ordered Mosbacher to turn over the adjusted data. Refusing to release all the data, or even to appear at a December 11 hearing, Mosbacher outraged subcommittee chairman Thomas Sawyer (D-OH), who promptly accused the commerce secretary of “standing outside of compliance with the law.”

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