limited its capacity to answer key research questions about the feasibility and cost of gathering data on Americans living abroad; they also questioned the resulting data quality. The response rates on the test were extremely poor: the Bureau had printed 520,000 questionnaires for the test, yet only 5,390 questionnaires (1,783 paper and 3,607 on the Internet) were returned from all three sites. By comparison, the July 1999 State Department estimates suggested that 1,036,300 American citizens reside in Mexico, 101,750 in France, and 7,710 in Kuwait.

In carrying out the test, the Bureau experienced some country-specific problems that would likely be more significant if the enumeration were conducted in additional countries. Perhaps most significant was the problem experienced with collecting even short-form census information in France; under French privacy laws, collection of data on race and ethnicity is generally prohibited. The Bureau also had difficulty overseeing the contractor responsible for raising public awareness of the test. The U.S. Government Accountability Office (2004a) commented that the approach used to test the viability of counting this group by means of a voluntary survey that relied on marketing to ensure a complete count would be very costly and yield poor results.

At the outset of planning efforts for the 2004 overseas test, a follow-up test in 2006 had been scheduled. However, on the basis of the 2004 test results, funds for the 2006 test were not provided in the Bureau’s appropriation.


The U.S. General Accounting Office (2004:8) usefully summarizes the basic “logistical, conceptual, policy, and other questions that surround the counting of overseas Americans.” Similar issues were also raised by then-Census director Kenneth Prewitt in his testimony on the matter prior to the 2000 census (U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Government Reform, 2000:44–46):

  • Who should be counted? U.S. citizens only? Foreign-born spouses? Children born overseas? Dual citizens? American citizens who have no intention of ever returning to the United States? Naturalized citizens?

  • How should overseas Americans be assigned to individual states? For certain purposes, such as apportioning Congress, the Bureau would need to assign overseas Americans to a particular state. Should one’s state be determined by the state claimed for income tax purposes? Where one is registered to vote? Last state of residence before going overseas? These and other options all have limitations that would need to be addressed.

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