- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 5, 2004

The U.S. Census Bureau is preparing for the next census in 2010 — which may include Americans living abroad — by doing a practice run in France, Kuwait and Mexico.

The test census will be used to evaluate the feasibility and logistics of including U.S. citizens living overseas, as Congress has asked.

“Counting Americans who live overseas is not an easy task,” Census Bureau Director Charles Kincannon said yesterday.

The challenge is not Americans’ willingness to participate, Mr. Kincannon said, but rather the Census Bureau’s ability to locate them; no agency keeps track of every American overseas or has records of their addresses.

Mr. Kincannon said the task is easier for expatriates who maintain links with American culture by being involved with churches, American clubs or organizations in their host countries.

The Internet has been considered by the Census Bureau as one tool to reach U.S. citizens abroad. “Americans who live overseas are often very active on the Web because it’s an easy way to keep in contact with friends and family,” said Mr. Kincannon.

However, expanding the census to include Americans abroad presents problems beyond the logistics of simply finding the expatriates, he said.

While France, Kuwait and Mexico were chosen as test countries because of the high number and diversity of U.S. citizens living there, the census director said, each of these countries poses a distinct challenge.

One problem comes from those who don’t identify themselves as culturally American, many of whom hold dual citizenship.

“We did not anticipate what is said to be a very large community of Mexican citizens holding American citizenship,” Mr. Kincannon said. Campaigns will be conducted both in English and in Spanish in order to reach as many American citizens in Mexico as possible.

A challenge for the test run in France — and for all European Union countries if the census expansion is approved for 2010 — will be complying with European Union confidentiality laws.

“French law does not easily permit identification of race or ethnicity,” Mr. Kincannon noted, although those are standard census questions in America.

The Census Bureau is currently working with the Department of Defense to determine whether U.S. soldiers stationed in Kuwait should be counted as residents of that country.

In all three countries, campaigns to get Americans to participate in the test will consist chiefly of radio and print advertisements.

The experiment, estimated to cost $6 million over the next three fiscal years, will also help the bureau to devise the best strategies to use if the real census is conducted overseas in 2010, Mr. Kincannon said.

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