PHIL WIELAND: Man wants to be Census Bureau's anonymous source

2013-05-24T00:00:00Z PHIL WIELAND: Man wants to be Census Bureau's anonymous source nwitimes.com
May 24, 2013 12:00 am

Most of us don't mind helping the government. Maybe it's because the government always seems to need a lot of help.

That's why, when James Lovick, of Valpo, got a postcard from the U.S. Census Bureau saying he had been selected to participate in a very important survey, he was ready to do his civic duty.

"What the card said was for me to go online and complete a survey that would benefit communities in many ways in deciding about highways, schools, hospitals and helping attract large corporations looking for ready workforce availability, plus allowing planners to set all sorts of goals using up-to-date data," he said.

When he saw it would take about 40 minutes to fill out all the answers. his sense of patriotic duty dimmed and he decided to wait for the paper version sent to those who failed to do the online survey.

Reading the 28-page survey, he saw many of the questions were, to his mind, a little too nosy, starting with asking for his name. The survey arrived addressed to "resident of," and Lovick preferred his relationship with the Census Bureau remain on a "resident of" basis.

Lovick said he wasn't bothered by the questions about his housing, ethnicity, education, military service, marital status, employment and such, but his bother meter rose when it wanted information on his property taxes, mortgage payments, value of his home and his insurance on it.

"It asks all about my health insurance, any physical disabilities, mental conditions that affect decision making, how much income the past year, what I do for income, where I work, all sources of my income and even what time I leave home for work and how I get there.

"Some of these things are personal. I am not trying to hide anything, but I would not divulge many of these things to close friends, much less a government agency! It would just not be their business."

There's a big difference between your close friends and the government. Your close friends can't fine you $5,000 for refusing to answer the questions, as the government can. Within a week of getting the mailed survey, he got two more postcards reminding him to fill it out.

Instead, he contacted Rep. Peter Visclosky's and Sen. Joe Donnelly's offices. On Thursday, Visclosky got a letter from the bureau saying, under federal law, the bureau couldn't confirm Lovick received the survey.

It did provide an explanation of the survey and its purposes, but it had nothing that isn't available on the bureau's website or in the "frequently asked questions" pamphlet Lovick received except the history of increasing the fine from $100 to $5,000.

The one question not answered was on using his name. I'll have that answer in next week's column.

The opinions are those of the writer. He can be reached at phil.wieland@nwi.com or (219) 548-4352.

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