Fox News joins Congressman in blasting Census Bureau totem pole

Posted: Thursday, August 19, 2010

A special totem pole commissioned by the U.S. Census Bureau has come under fire from Fox News and a Republican U.S. Congressman, both using the unusual Native outreach effort to attack the Bureau and the Obama administration.

Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire

The $20,000 totem pole was commissioned from Sitka carver Tommy Joseph who carved it from a Prince of Wales Cedar. It was brought to various communities during the dicennial census, and earlier this month the totem was sent on its way to the bureau's headquarters near Washington, D.C. where it will be displayed.

Congressman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., called the totem an example of Census Bureau overspending, calling it "the latest example of a mismanaged agency spending taxpayers' money like it grows on trees - or totem poles."

Issa said the cost would be even higher for the totem pole because of the $3,100 it would take to ship it to Washington, D.C.

Issa made his comments in a written statement to FoxNews.com, the network said.

Census Bureau spokesman Ruben Del Valle said at the totem send off the pole had served its purpose in raising awareness of the ongoing count effort in the Panhandle, where Native communities have traditionally been difficult to get to participate.

An article on FoxNews.com disagreed, however, and said the mail-in response rate for Alaska was two percentage points lower in 2010 than it had been in 2000, while the national mail-in response rate was the same in 2010 and 2000.

Bob Doll, one of the co-chairs of Juneau's Complete Count Committee, said the totem had actually served its purpose in Southeast Alaska.

"I think a large component in gathering the census every decade is making an impression on the public that they are important and the count is important," said Doll, a member of the Juneau Assembly and retired general manager of the Alaska Marine Highway System.

Doll said the totem was money well spent by the bureau.

Juneau had an active effort to promote the count, including use of the totem, and was rewarded with one of the state's highest response rates.

"I think it paid off handsomely," he said.

The Census Bureau last week announced that this year's count had come in under budget, and that it had returned $1.6 billion of its appropriation to the U. S. Treasury, spending 22 percent less than expected.

Even their special operations to count remote Alaska areas came in under budget, according to the announcement.

Issa, in his statement to Fox News, said the census actually spent more than a Congressional agency estimated that it should cost in 2006, and said the bureau used "budget gimmickry" to come in under budget.

"The American people are right to be furious with a Washington that spends so recklessly, cooks the books to cover its tracks and thinks it's a good idea to buy a $23,000 totem pole while more than 14.6 million people are unemployed," Issa told Fox News.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.



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