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Tampa census office improves, report says

A monitoring board projects an accurate count for Hillsborough, but a critic of the process challenges that view.

By ALICIA CALDWELL

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 20, 2000


A bipartisan U.S. Census monitoring board reported this week that the Tampa census office, while off to a rocky start, had significantly improved its operations and was expected to turn in accurate counts of Hillsborough County residents.

The Tampa office was one of 51 offices around the country that were evaluated by the board, which was appointed by the president and Congress.

About six months ago, the Tampa office -- plagued by upper management turnover -- was significantly behind in hiring door-to-door census takers. Monitoring board members wrote in their report that they expected Tampa would have to borrow enumerators from other offices to get the job done.

"Instead, by the second visit in May, the recruiting numbers rose significantly," the report said. "A new and enthusiastic recruiting manager, a pay raise of $1 an hour and free parking for office clerks (a day of parking costs as much as one hour's pay) contributed to the improved applicant pool which contained several thousand people."

Not everyone was so confident that the end product would be an accurate count of Hillsborough County residents.

"If you're hiring people to carry out a flawed procedure, you're going to have flawed results," said Jim Hosler, research director for the Hillsborough County Planning Commission.

Regardless of whether the local census workers adhered to approved procedures, they were going to miss a significant number of migrants and carnival workers, Hosler said.

"Nothing's changed as far as we're concerned," Hosler said.

Hillsborough officials have been closely watching procedures, response rates and court challenges across the country. They're trying to determine whether the county ought to challenge the final numbers, which will be released next year.

The U.S. Census Monitoring Board, established by Congress in 1997, is a bipartisan board charged with monitoring the census and reporting its findings to Congress and the president.

The board began its work in 1998. It issued three reports last year, and along with the report released this week, plans to issue three more monitoring reports next year.

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