Buried among funding for two wars, veteranâ€™s education and other domestic programs, the G.I. Bill passed by the Senate on Thursday includes $210 million for the Census Bureau. The money is needed to help cover the $220 million gap in funding due to the bureauâ€™s decision to revert to a paper-based count of citizens who donâ€™t mail in their census forms. The Bureau scrapped its plans to use handheld computers for the exercise in March after a series of setbacks and budget overruns.
The funding would be less remarkable if Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez hadnâ€™t told Congress that the department would find the funds within the Commerce's existing fiscal 2008 budget to pay for the cost overruns on the handheld contract. At a hearing of the House Appropriations Committee on Commerce, Justice and Science on April 3, Gutierrez submitted an emergency request asking Congress to allow Commerce to transfer funds from other departmental programs to Census. He estimated the budget shortfall for 2008 to be between $160 million and $230 million and emphasized that without that money, the 2010 Census was at serious risk.
The decision to revert to paper is expected to increase costs for the 2010 decennial census by as much as $3 billion. Most of the increase is expected to be felt in fiscal 2009 and fiscal 2010. The original cost of the handheld contract awarded to Harris Corp. was $595 million. That cost has swelled significantly, with estimates ranging from $680 million to $1.3 billion.
But the Census Bureau isn't counting on the gift. A person close to the situation said the agency was not counting on the appropriations bill passing given the fact that President Bush has promised to veto any G.I. bill that includes funding beyond the $108 million requested for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the House's version of the bill did not include money for the bureau. The agency is still waiting on Congress to grant Gutierrez's request to allow the bureau to shift funds among programs.
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