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Lawmakers Tell Census Bureau to Keep Questionnaires Simple

May 15, 1987|Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Warning against a repetition of the recent problems with new tax withholding forms, congressmen pressed the Census Bureau on Thursday to make its questionnaires as simple and clear as possible.

The new W-4 tax forms were "a nightmare, a horror, a fiasco. We're trying to prevent anything of that nature from happening again," said Sen. David Pryor (D-Ark.), chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs subcommittee on federal services, post office and civil service.

It is important "to ensure that the census form does not become so complicated or so intrusive into personal matters that people simply do not respond," added Rep. Mervyn M. Dymally (D-Compton), chairman of the House Post Office and Civil Service subcommittee on census and planning.

Joint Hearing Held

Dymally and Pryor held a joint hearing on the plans for the next national head count, scheduled for April 1, 1990. By law the topics to be covered and questions to be asked must undergo advance congressional scrutiny.

"We're going to be monitoring this system very carefully," said Pryor, reflecting on the recent controversy over Internal Revenue Service forms that proved so complex they had to be revised.

The Constitution requires a counting of the American people every 10 years, but over time the effort has grown to include a variety of population and housing statistics used for governmental programs and by private firms.

Deciding what to ask "involves a rather delicate balancing act on the part of the Census Bureau," Dymally said, a balance between the need for information and the need to reduce the burden of responding for the public.

Census Director John G. Keane said his agency has developed a proposed 1990 questionnaire of about the same length as that used in 1980, although a few questions will differ. As was done in 1980, certain basic questions will be asked of every household, but a longer, more detailed form will go to a large sample, probably about one in six.

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