How many infants live in Puerto Rico? Workers at the New York regional office of the U.S. Census Bureau will soon be responsible for keeping tabs on the island and many more states, according to the bureau.
Last Wednesday, the government agency announced it would be eliminating half of its regional offices and restructuring within the next 18 months. As a result of these changes, the New York office will now be handling data from New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont, Rhode Island and Puerto Rico. Previously, the bureau handled only nine New York and 10 New Jersey counties.
“The Census this last round was a disaster, and the notion that the reaction to that would be to actually reduce management oversight is very disturbing,” said state Sen. Mike Gianaris (D-Astoria). According to Census data, the neighborhood Gianaris represents lost more residents than any other in the city.
The nationwide reforms which eliminate regional offices in Boston, Charlotte, Dallas, Detroit, Kansas City and Seattle, will save the agency an estimated $15 to $18 million annually, beginning in 2014.
The overall budget for the agency in 2010 was approximately $7.2 billion. Projected savings come in part from a reduction in the national field workforce of about 115 to 130 employees.
The bureau called the decision “difficult,” adding that it “will produce disruption and pain in the lives of our colleagues in those offices.
“We are committed to employ all methods legally possible to reduce the negative impact of this change on our affected employees,” the bureau wrote.
Though the Census collects data on the entire nation every 10 years, regional offices manage other types of surveys annually. It is still unclear exactly how the New York office will handle the new workload, but according to the bureau, some time-saving measures will come from increased use of technology.
This will not be the agency’s first attempt to modernize. The bureau planned to collect 2010 Census Data using specially manufactured handheld devices but in 2008, after it had already ordered the computerized systems, it changed track, costing billions.
For years the Census Bureau has been subjected to scrutiny by the Office of Inspector General. A report issued by the OIG on June 27 to Congress listed a number of problems with agency oversight and blamed high-level management for the IT debacle.
The words “close regional offices” could not be found anywhere in the 71-page report.
Despite spending nearly $13 billion dollars on Census 2010 — around $98 per household, in New York City, questions remain as to whether the bureau got its numbers right.
The 2010 Census claimed western Queens lost a total of 23,000 people while the entire borough of Queens reportedly gained only 1,343 new residents.
The city is in the process of preparing a Count Question Resolution challenge to address perceived discrepancies in population for Brooklyn and Queens.
A spokeswoman for the Department of City Planning said the challenge had not yet been submitted, but was expected to be completed this month.
Census data is tied to federal funding and if borough populations were under-counted, the city would lose money.