Census Fights Fall-out From Buying Gear Made Outside the USA

Apr 13, 2010 5:03pm

ABC News’ Matthew Jaffe reports:


The Census Bureau is under fire for purchasing numerous promotional items made outside the United States at a time when the country is still grappling with severe unemployment problems.


Last Saturday the Census held a nationwide event called “March to the Mailbox”, an effort to get people in 6,000 low-response areas to mail back their census forms before the government has to spend money sending employees door-to-door to collect responses for the once-a-decade count.


For the event the Census gave out promotional items such as t-shirts and hats…made in countries like China, Bangladesh, and Haiti, as the Chicago Sun-Times first reported. The garb went to local officials, volunteers, and attendees at the events.


“It’s hard to believe the bureaucracy of the federal government would not be sensitive to the concerns of the average citizen who is worried about getting or keeping a job in these tough times,” Chicago Federation of Labor President Dennis Gannon told the Sun-Times. “With 15 million men and women unemployed in this country, it is outrageous that our government turned elsewhere for materials to promote the census. It could have been a mini-stimulus package of its own.”


Not so fast, a Census spokesperson told ABC News Tuesday.


Census spokesman Stephen Buckner said all of the promotional items used were bought from small businesses and companies in the United States. The items were purchased in compliance with the Buy America Act or federal procurement rules, Buckner said. While a hat or a t-shirt may have been manufactured in a foreign country such as China, the Census bought it from a US company. The Census, he noted, was also working with only a brief timeframe to get these items in time to use them for last weekend’s nationwide event.


Moreover, Buckner said, the items only cost a tiny fraction of the $400 million that the Census plans to spend on communications, such as a recent nationwide road tour. The items used in the “March to the Mailbox” event cost about $6.4 million, the equivalent of 1.5 percent of the $400 million.


And it was all part of an effort to save American taxpayers money in the first place. As the Census has repeatedly emphasized, a one percent increase in the national mail-back response rate will save about $85 million in taxpayer money because it is that much more expensive to send a Census employee out to knock on non-respondent’s doors.


- Matthew Jaffe


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