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Census 2000: Americans Abroad Count, Too!

U.S. Government employees residing overseas are included in the U.S. Census, but the vast majority of Americans living and working abroad - estimated to be at least three million U.S. citizens - are not. Just be cause they are currently living overseas does not mean that these hard-working, patriotic U.S. citizens should be targeted for exclusion and treated as "invisible" by the U.S. Government. Americans abroad are highly visible "ambassadors" of the United States - economically, politically, and culturally - and these U.S. citizens play a key role in advancing America's interests around the world.

It makes good sense to include Americans resident abroad in Census 2000 for at least four reasons:

Competitiveness - In today's global economy, Americans abroad play a vital role in promoting U.S. competitiveness overseas and in generating jobs in the United States. In order for America's public and private sector leaders to give appropriate support to U.S. citizens and U.S. companies overseas, it is important to get a better handle on how many Americans live abroad and where they live. By way of analogy: If a team captain does not know how many players are at his disposal, how can he possibly field much of a team, let alone compete successfully?

Representation - Through the Census, the U.S. Government counts Americans every ten years, and there is no reasonable basis for excluding millions of Americans just because they are living overseas. Like Americans who reside within the 50 United States and the District of Columbia, U.S. citizens abroad vote, pay U.S. taxes, and generally stay in touch with their home communities in the USA.

Fairness - U.S. Government employees working overseas are included in the U.S. Census. It is wrong for the U.S. Government to "take care of its own" and to discriminate against those Americans who do not work for the government. All Americans - regardless of their employment status or where they live - deserve the right to be counted.

Accuracy - The Census Bureau says that it wants Census 2000 to be the "most accurate census ever." But the Bureau cannot willingly and knowingly exclude millions of Americans living overseas and still claim with any credibility that its work is accurate. If the Census Bureau is committed to accurate data for reasons of apportionment and for other purposes, then it must include private Americans abroad.

Members of the Census 2000 Coalition, composed of all the main organizations representing U.S. citizens and U.S. companies overseas, have offered to do the lion's share of the work involved in "getting the word out" about the Census to private U.S. citizens residing overseas. Through the use of a simple Overseas Citizen Census Card (OCCC), taking stock of Americans abroad would be efficient and cost-effective. Distribution and collection of the OCCCs would be modeled after the Federal Post Card Application (FPCA), which Americans overseas have used successfully for more than two decades to vote by absentee ballot.

Despite the Census Bureau's stonewalling and its efforts to smother discussion of this issue with red herrings, an increasing number of policymakers - on a bipartisan basis - are realizing that Americans abroad need to be included in Census 2000. Updating the U.S. Census in this way is long overdue, and it represents an important step forward for American citizens and U.S. interests worldwide.
Resource materials to be used for BACKGROUND purposes:

Myths and Facts:Including Americans Abroad in Census 2000

Americans living and working overseas are an increasingly important segment of the U.S. population. This is a reflection of America's growing globalization and the essential role that U.S. exports of goods, services, and expertise now play in strengthening our economy. There are at least three million Americans living overseas, and this number appears to be growing at an unprecedented rate. As highly visible "ambassadors" of the United States - economically, politically, and culturally - U.S. citizens overseas play a key role in advancing America's interests around the world.

Despite this fact, the U.S. Bureau of the Census refuses to include any provision for counting Americans abroad in Census 2000. The Bureau states that it wants Census 2000 to be the "most accurate census ever." But can the Bureau knowingly and willingly exclude millions of Americans - who happen to live and work overseas - and still claim that Census 2000 is accurate?

To make things right, U.S. citizens groups around the world have volunteered to do the lion's share of the work in "spreading the word" about Census 2000 to Americans abroad. These groups have prepared proposals that would enable the Bureau to collect data on Americans overseas in a systematic, cost-effective way. Regrettably, the Census Bureau has been unwilling to study these proposals in a serious way, raising questions about the Bureau's own capabilities, its lack of preparedness for the new millennium, and its inability to deal with an American population that is more global today than at any time in our nation's history.

Despite the Census Bureau's stonewalling, an increasing number of policymakers - on a bipartisan basis - are realizing that Americans living and working abroad need to be counted. Through the census, the U.S. Government takes stock of Americans every ten years, and there is no basis for excluding millions of Americans overseas who are promoting U.S. interests on a day-in and day-out basis. Just because they are currently living abroad does not mean that these hard-working, tax-paying U.S. citizens should be treated as "invisible" by the U.S. Government.

The Census Bureau has put forward a number of arguments about why it is not in a position to include Americans abroad in Census 2000. Upon close inspection, however, it is clear that these arguments just don't hold water. In an effort to set the record straight, Americans around the globe have prepared this list of "Myths and Facts." What's the bottom line? Americans living and working abroad belong in Census 2000, and where there's a will, there's a way.

Myth #1: It is too difficult to track down Americans overseas.

Fact #1: Many Americans living and working overseas are already registered with U.S. Embassies and Consulates. Americans abroad are also accessible through U.S. citizens groups around the world, American Chambers of Commerce (AmChams) abroad, U.S.-based companies with overseas operations, American schools abroad, American communities overseas, and U.S.-based families of Americans living and working outside the country.

Myth #2: It is too expensive to include Americans overseas in Census 2000.

Fact #2: Including Americans who are currently living overseas need not be an expensive process. There are three basic methods by which Americans abroad could provide census data: 1) supplying the information directly to the Census Bureau via the Internet; 2) supplying it to the Bureau through U.S. Embassies and Consulates; 3) mailing it directly to the Census Bureau.

At a reasonable cost, a secure web site could be established that would enable U.S. citizens overseas to supply data to the Census Bureau. To avoid fraud, applicants would be required to supply their Social Security numbers or passport numbers. It should be possible to have this site up and running in time for Census 2000 but, if a longer period of testing is desired, the site could be used selectively, on a pilot basis, for the upcoming census. (If successful, this site could one day be used for Americans residing in the United States as well.)

It should also be simple and cost-effective to design an Overseas Citizen Census Card (OCCC) that would be available through U.S. Embassies and Consulates around the world. One member of the embassy staff would serve as the contact person for these cards, which would be distributed directly by embassies and consulates and indirectly by American citizens groups abroad and other channels (identified above). Distribution and collection of the OCCCs would be modeled after the Federal Post Card Application (FPCA), which Americans overseas have used for more than 20 years to vote by absentee ballot. The completed OCCCs could be returned directly to the Census Bureau by mail, indirectly through embassies and consulates via diplomatic pouch, or indirectly through American citizens groups (presumably in cooperation with a global courier company).

Myth #3: Americans abroad should only be included if there is 100% participation.

Fact #3: Never in the history of the United States have all Americans been counted in the U.S. Census. Nor would anyone expect the Census Bureau to track down every last American living and working abroad. But just because all Americans overseas can't be accounted for doesn't mean that we shouldn't be counting any U.S. citizens abroad. There is widespread agreement that, with an early enough start, very large numbers of Americans abroad would participate in Census 2000. They want to be actively involved in this census, and the Bureau's wrongheaded desire to have "all or nothing at all" should not stand in the way.

Myth #4: The last time that Americans abroad were included in the U.S. Census - in 1970 - there were severe limitations when it came to voluntary compliance.

Fact #4: Drawing such comparisons is like juxtaposing a 1970 computer with that of today: there is simply no comparison. In 1970, at the height of the Vietnam War, it was hard to get a fix on Americans abroad for a variety of reasons. Today, the vast majority of Americans overseas can access the Internet and are accessible by fax and/or e-mail.

The Census Bureau itself must take responsibility for a large portion of what it calls the "data quality problems" associated with the 1970 census. The Bureau generated a long and perplexing bureaucratic form, and it supplied inadequate instructions for Americans abroad. Many were confused, for example, about what should be considered a "Home State." Is it the most recent State of residence? Is it the last State in which one paid taxes? Is it the most recent State in which one voted? Is it the last State in which one owned property?

With adequate instructions from the Census Bureau, there should be no confusion this time around. Congress decided in the 1970s that for voting purposes, the "Home State" of an American abroad is that State in which the U.S. citizen last resided in the United States. It makes sense to use this same definition for purposes of the U.S. Census and apportionment.

Myth #5: Census 2000 data from overseas would distort apportionment for elections.

Fact #5: Americans abroad pay taxes in the United States and vote in the State and Congressional district in which they last resided, so why shouldn't they be considered in the apportionment process? Apportionment is currently being distorted because Americans abroad are not being included in the census. When it comes to apportionment, U.S. citizens living overseas should be treated in the same way as U.S. citizens living in the USA.

Myth #6: Confidentiality may be compromised overseas, and there would be no way to guard against fraud.

Fact #6: Working through U.S. Embassies and Consulates, confidentiality could be assured. All completed Overseas Citizen Census Cards (OCCCs), for example, would be returned to the U.S. Government in sealed envelopes. Likewise, information posted via the Internet would be encrypted and secure.

The likelihood of widespread fraud is remote, just as it is when census data are collected in the United States. The Census Bureau builds in safeguards against fraud, and these same safeguards would be used overseas. In addition, the OCCCs could require a respondent to include his Social Security number or his passport number - a feature that is not included in the standard short-form questionnaire.

Myth #7: Any verification procedure would be very time consuming and costly.

Fact #7: Verification need not be time consuming or expensive. The OCCCs would require respondents to provide an overseas address and coordinates so that the Census Bureau, if it needs to, could verify information supplied on the OCCC. Verification might be most effectively conducted through U.S. Embassies and Consulates.

With today's technology, verification is easier than it has ever been. The availability of faxes and e-mail addresses means that data could be exchanged quickly and at relatively low cost. In the case of e-mail correspondence, it is both faster and cheaper than sending materials through the U.S. Postal Service.

Myth #8: The Census Bureau has neither the budget nor the time to design a system to include Americans abroad in Census 2000.

Fact #8: It will not cost a mint to incorporate Americans living and working overseas, and there is no need to "reinvent the wheel." The key is to build on past experience - to avoid previous mistakes and to take advantage of what was done properly in the past. With the help of dedicated American volunteer organizations to assist U.S. Embassies and Consulates in the distribution and collection of OCCCs, there would be no significant additional costs - just marginal costs associated with shipping the OCCCs to and from the United States to our diplomatic posts overseas.

To lighten the logistical load on the Census Bureau, it is highly recommended that a Census 2000 working group be established to share information and to refine the proposals advanced by American citizens groups overseas. The working group, it is assumed, would be composed of representatives from the Census Bureau, the U.S. Department of State, relevant Congressional committees, and U.S. citizens groups overseas.

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