Hearing on Multiracial Identification

Statement of Representative Stephen Horn (R-CA)
Chairman, Subcommittee on Government Management Information and Technology

Before the Subcommittee on Government Management, Information and Technology
of the House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight

Hearing on Multiracial Identification
25 July 1997

 


Opening Statement of Rep. Stephen Horn (R-CA)

This is the third in a series of hearings on how the Federal Government measures race and ethnicity. Today's hearing follows a major decision on the issue. After four years of review, a task force set up by the Office of Management and Budget — the Interagency Committee – has issued a detailed recommendation for changes to the standard Federal measures of race and ethnicity.

This is not a casual matter. It is highly personal information for millions of Americans who take pride in their full heritage. It is also a vital issue for the enforcement of civil rights laws in our Nation.

The current measures include four basic categories of race: Black, White, Asian or Pacific Islander, and American Indian or Alaskan Native. These categories and other standards for the collection and reporting of data on race and ethnicity are set forth in OMB Directive No. 15.

A major issue is whether these categories are adequate to measure our society now and in the coming decades. In particular, there is growing concern that asking individuals to identify with only one of these four categories on the Census questionnaire and other forms fails to accommodate people of multiple racial heritages.

It is not hard to understand this problem. All you have to do is imagine you are Tiger Woods — perhaps without the Nike endorsement — and someone is telling you to identify with only one part of your heritage.

The challenge is to allow for multiracial identification without harming the usefulness and accuracy of the data. One proposal for multiracial identification is to create a fifth racial category called "multiracial." Another proposal is to keep the current four categories but allow respondents to check off more than one.

On July 9, the Interagency Committee recommended against a "multiracial" category but in favor of allowing people to identify with more than one of the existing categories to reflect their diverse backgrounds. In its recommendation to the Office of Management and Budget, the Interagency Committee stated that the multiracial population is growing and needs to be measured but that a separate multiracial category is not the best way to do this. The recommendation notes that years of surveys and public town meetings showed no general consensus on the definition of "multiracial" and that such a category is likely to be misunderstood by individuals responding to questions concerning race.

As Edmund Burke once observed, "All government — indeed, every human benefit and enjoyment, every virtue and every prudent act — is founded on compromise and barter." The Interagency Committee did just that. In effect, the task force has advised the Director of the Office of Management and Budget to preserve the current usefulness of racial and ethnic data and also to acknowledge the desire of individuals to identify their heritage. Some will say this recommendation tries to please all sides and therefore pleases none.

There are two distinct aspects to this issue. The first is individual identification. People need to be treated with dignity, especially when they are being asked to identify themselves. The second aspect is utilization of these data. They are put to some very important purposes — purposes that many would say outweigh concerns over individual identification.

The Interagency Committee recommendation leaves the questions about tabulation and reporting of the data largely unanswered. That is a problem and we need to address it. Will people who check two racial categories be counted twice, significantly inflating the numbers of a particular race in a particular area?

We begin today with a very distinguished witness, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the Honorable Newt Gingrich. We are very pleased that he joins us to offer his thoughts on this complex and important issues.

Following the Speaker, we will hear from other Members of Congress who have taken an active interest in this issue. They are all highly knowledgeable and highly respected. We value their views.

We will then hear reaction to the Interagency Committee recommendation from advocates and experts outside of the Government. We have received testimony from some of them before and we are pleased to welcome them back for further analysis of this issue.

Finally, we will turn to a panel of Federal officials. They will give us the agency view where so much time and energy has been spent reviewing measures of race and ethnicity. We look forward to the testimony of the Office of Management and Budget, the Bureau of the Census, and the Department of Justice.

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