WASHINGTON -- Commerce Secretary Don Evans is wresting from the Census Bureau the final call on whether to adjust the 2000 census results. House Democrats say that could ultimately leave millions of poor people and minorities uncounted.
Evans' action Friday returned to the commerce secretary's office the final say over the politically sensitive decision to adjust raw population numbers with a statistical method known as sampling that could protect against an undercount.
A regulation issued last year by the Clinton administration had transferred the decision-making power to the Census Bureau's director and a committee of career statisticians at the agency.
Evans' action, though, returns the decision to where "Congress has always intended" it to be made, said spokesman Jim Dyke.
The stakes are high: The sampled numbers, if approved, could be used to redraw political district boundaries and redistribute over $185 billion in federal funds.
Democrats reacted angrily to the announcement, made late Friday of a holiday weekend.
"The secretary's action is a perilous step toward disenfranchising the estimated millions of minorities, children and rural residents who were not counted by the 2000 census," said House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo.
The Bush administration "has clearly signaled their intention to influence the final decision for what can only be construed to be motivated by partisan political gain," Gephardt added.
Republicans disagreed. Dyke said the move established the "framework of an open and fair" decision-making process.
"Accountability is the cornerstone of America's participatory democracy. Our leaders must be accountable to the people," Evans said in a statement. "I believe the decision-making authority for the 2000 census should reside with the person selected by the president, approved by the U.S. Senate and accountable to the people."
The Census Bureau now must recommend to Evans whether to adjust the figures by March 1. Dyke said the secretary would then reach his decision within five days, though Gephardt asked President Bush to consult with congressional leaders before any further action is taken.
"That is shameful, and it smacks of Florida (election results)," Rep. Martin Frost of Texas, the third-ranking House Democrat, said of the administration's decision.
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