updated 9/15/2004 10:21:23 AM ET 2004-09-15T14:21:23

Congressional investigators recommended Tuesday that the Census Bureau not include Americans living abroad as part of the U.S. census in 2010.

The investigators with the Government Accountability Office cited high costs and poor response to a just-completed overseas test survey.

The test count in France, Kuwait and Mexico between February and July will cost about $7.8 million, the Census Bureau said. Of the 520,000 forms printed, only 1,780, or less than 1 percent, were completed and returned, the bureau said. Another 3,600 responses came through the Internet.

“The tools and resources the bureau has available to enumerate this group, largely for reasons of practicality, cannot cost-effectively surmount these obstacles,” said Patricia Dalton, the GAO’s director of strategic issues, in testimony prepared for the House Government Reform Committee’s census panel.

The GAO said the bureau should continue to study this year’s test results, but urged Congress not to fund planned tests for 2006 and 2008.

“These results suggest the Census Bureau cannot conduct a decennial census abroad, as done stateside, with any degree of measurable certainty,” the bureau’s director, Louis Kincannon, told the subcommittee.

Coming to AmericaThe government may want to consider using a survey separate from the once-a-decade census if there is still a desire to count U.S. citizens living privately abroad, the GAO said. The census already counts U.S. military personnel and government workers overseas.

The bureau in the past has sounded a cautious tone on counting Americans citizens living abroad as private citizens, in large part because of difficulties in finding where they live and getting census materials to them.

One of the central purposes of the census is to reapportion the 435 House seats among the states each decade according to population shifts.

The question of counting U.S. citizens overseas drew more attention after the 2000 count, when Utah fell about 80 residents short of being allocated another congressional seat.

The Supreme Court in 2001 rejected Utah’s lawsuit claiming that some 11,000 Mormon missionaries living overseas should have been included in the state’s population.

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