After what has seemed like endless debate, the US Census Bureau may finally be setting a firm course toward the year 2000.
The sticking point has been sampling, a method by which census planners hoped to correct undercounts of past years. Nationwide mailings and follow-ups were to be augmented by statistical projection. That approach, though supported by a wide range of experts, became anathema to many in Congress.
They argued sampling was unconstitutional (the Constitution uses the phrase "actual enumeration" in mandating the census), and in January the Supreme Court upheld their position, at least partially. The court held that the federal law governing the census excludes the use of sampling to apportion state representation in Congress. The court didn't bar its use for other things, such as redistricting within states or allocating federal funds.
What has evolved, then, is a dual-track census using both sampling (for which the bureau has long been prepared) and a national head count accomplished by knocking on as many front doors as possible. The latter requires another $1.7 billion in addition to the $2.9 billion already budgeted for the Census Bureau. Hundreds of thousands more enumerators will have to be hired.
It's far from clear how much more accuracy this money will buy. But it should mark the end of political bickering. We're happy the count, at long last, can get ready to begin.