Census Director to Work Directly with White House
By Philip Rucker
President Obama has decided to have the director of the U.S. Census Bureau work directly with the White House, the administration said today, a move that comes as the Census Bureau prepares to conduct the 2010 census that will determine redistricting of congressional seats.
Under the Bush administration, the Census Bureau director reported to the commerce secretary. Obama is adding oversight of the director by senior White House aides, but keeping the bureau itself under the umbrella of the Department of Commerce, White House spokesman Ben LaBolt said.
After Obama nominated a Republican, New Hampshire Sen. Judd Gregg, to head Commerce, Latino advocates voiced concern about him overseeing the politically delicate task of determining the nation's population. But LaBolt suggested Obama's changes to the organizational structure have been long in the making.
"From the first days of the transition the Census has been a priority for the president, and a process he wanted to reevaluate," LaBolt said in a statement this afternoon. "There is historic precedent for the director of the Census, who works for the commerce secretary and the president, to work closely with White House senior management, given the number of decisions that will have to be put before the president. We plan to return to that model in this administration."
The decennial Census is used to redraw district lines for elected seats in Congress and state legislatures, and is always a major issue for minority advocates. The National Association of Latino Elected Officials released a statement on Tuesday, shortly after Obama announced Gregg's nomination, questioning Gregg's willingness to produce the most accurate count of the nation's population.
"As a current member and former chairman of the subcommittee that funds the U.S. Census Bureau, Secretary-designate Gregg fought President Clinton's efforts to increase funding for the Commerce Department to administer the 2000 Census," the statement read. "During his tenure in the U.S. Senate, some policymakers questioned his commitment to supporting the basic functions of the Bureau."
On Capitol Hill, some Republicans took aim at Obama's plan to shift oversight of the Census Bureau.
"Requiring the Census director to report directly to White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel is a shamefully transparent attempt by your administration to politicize the Census Bureau and manipulate the 2010 Census," Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), both of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, wrote in a letter today to Obama. "The constitutionally-mandated decennial Census needs to be fair, accurate and trusted. By circumventing the secretary of commerce's oversight of the Census Bureau and handing it directly to a political operative such as Mr. Emanuel, you are severely jeopardizing the fairness and accuracy of the 2010 Census."
Posted at 6:08 PM ET on Feb 5, 2009
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