- The Washington Times - Monday, April 17, 2000

Some get U.S. head count forms both on base, at home

Civilians are not the only segment of society complaining about the 2000 census's intrusive questions.

Since 1890, the Census Bureau has conducted a separate head count of the armed forces. A few who have been handed the 28-question military long form find it too nosy, especially if they also arrived home and found the civilian census form in the mail. The penalty for failing to fill them out is a $100 fine.

"The military is required to fill out two censuses," said a Navy officer who received both long forms. "I don't know why or where this rule comes from. I think the data is completely worthless. There's nothing in the form that the military doesn't already know about me."

Like the civilian form, the "Military Census Report" asks respondents to answer questions about their stock profits, the time they leave home for work, their ethnic background and travel habits. Only a few questions are exclusive to the military.

"The government has no right to know most of the data there," said the Navy officer, who asked not to be named. "Did Congress authorize a military census? What about government employees? Teachers? Do you go to Lockheed Martin to make sure they turned in their census?"

The armed forces, with 1.4 million members, is apparently the only U.S. profession that receives a special census form. There is also one for Navy and Coast Guard sailors deployed at sea.

Census Bureau officials defend the massive roll call. For one, they say, such a count has been done since 1890. And the Defense Department wants the count to maintain an accurate profile of service members.

"We negotiated what the Department of Defense wanted," said Edison Gore, the bureau's assistant division chief for field programs. "The military's opinion is that in order to get a more accurate count of those assigned to them off base, we should use the process."

Commanders began distributing the forms on April 3. They were due back Friday, so officials could not comment on the compliance rate.

"All the questions on the long form are either required by law or specific federal program requirements, and all are questions that have been vetted through Congress," Mr. Gore said.

Military personnel living on base and on ship must fill out one form. Off-base service members receive a military census as well as the civilian form sent to homes. One in six persons in uniform receives the long, 28-question survey, the same ratio for civilians who get the 53-question form.

"The whole process for the census is unbearably complicated when you're trying to count 270 million people," said Mike Hovland, a bureau historian, referring to the $6.8 billion 2000 census.

Mr. Hovland said the military report is actually shorter today than 30 years ago. There were 35 questions in 1960. Ten years ago, there were 33.

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