Census nominee supports Internet questionnaires

Editor's note: This story was updated at 11:35 a.m. Dec. 20, 2007. Please go to Corrections & Clarifications to see what has changed.


President Bush’s candidate to head the Census Bureau said he sees the Internet as a tool to conduct the decennial survey in the future.

Stephen Murdock, director of the Institute for Demographic and Socioeconomic Research at the University of Texas at San Antonio, told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Dec. 18 that Census must move to the Internet eventually but with an eye to protecting citizen’s personal information.

“We cannot [move to the Internet] until we can ensure confidentiality,” Murdock said. He also said there wasn’t enough time to test a Web-based questionnaire system for the 2010 Census, but he wants to establish one for future use.

The committee approved Murdock's nomination last night around 9.

The push to move the Census online was first spurred at a July hearing before the same committee, where Census officials and lawmakers argued about the safety of transmitting personal information via the Web. Deputy Census Director Preston Jay Waite said the agency was unwilling to take unnecessary risks. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), who was unable to attend the Dec. 18 hearing, said bureau leaders lack vision.

The bureau tested Internet surveys in 2001, 2003 and 2005 and concluded that the increased response rate and cost savings didn’t outweigh privacy risks, which Murdock reiterated during the hearing.

Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) said people already use the Internet to file tax returns safely with the Internal Revenue Service.

Murdock’s nomination comes at a crucial time for the bureau. Next year, the agency enters its final tests before the 2010 Census. Census Director Charles Kincannon resigned from his post in November 2006, but chose to continue working until his successor is confirmed.

The committee vote on Murdock’s nomination was to take place Dec. 19, but it was canceled.

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