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Clinton-Era Census Director Coming Back?

By Ed O'Keefe
Kenneth Prewitt
Former Census Director Kenneth Prewitt may be headed back to his old job.

Updated 2:07 p.m. ET

Dr. Kenneth Prewitt, who served as director of the U.S. Census Bureau from 1998 to 2001, is a leading candidate to serve as director once again, according to an administration official and several people familiar with the Census process.

During an interview this morning on CNBC, Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) said “The person that the White House has proposed to manage the Census, Ken Prewitt, did it in 2000 when I was chairman of the appropriations committee that had oversight over the commerce department and I thought he did an excellent job.”

Currently a professor of Public Affairs at Columbia University, Prewitt gave no comment when asked about the matter earlier this week, stating the final decision is "in the hands of the administration."

“There are lots of fans of Ken Prewitt on the Hill, especially among Democrats, but he has bipartisan support," said one Congressional aide familiar with the Census process. "He worked hard at bipartisan relations and worked on aggressive outreach to Republicans" to address concerns.

Following his tenure, Prewitt authored, "The American People 2000: Politics and Science in Census Taking," an extensive 50-page personal recollection of the Census process and a historical review of the constitutionally-mandated headcount. While it focuses primarily on the science and methodology of the Census, Prewitt also comments on potential political interference with the count -- concerns raised this week by Republicans.

He writes that "The director of the Census Bureau does have many bosses" and input from several groups including Census Monitoring Board, the bureau's own advisory committees, the Government Accountability Office, the Office of Management and Budget, the commerce secretary, the commerce department's inspector general and Congress.

As for the White House it "also took a close interest in the census, though it was careful not to do anything that could be interpreted as trying to politically influence the Census Bureau," Prewitt writes. "The White House mounted a vigorous defense of statistical sampling and worked to reassure its civil rights and urban constituencies that they would be well counted."

Prewitt later addresses concerns that the Census Bureau had a partisan agenda, calling such charges "groundless and even silly," writing that:

"...neither the culture nor the competencies of the Census Bureau are suited to advancing a partisan agenda. The professional statistical community inside and outside the government is the bureau's peer community, and the bureau would not jeopardize its high standing among its peers for a short-term political purpose. Of even greater importance, the Census Bureau has the confidence of the American public -- a confidence indispensable for public cooperation with its large complement of mainly voluntary statistical surveys and studies."
To risk public trust and cooperation for a one-time political outcome would be an act of institutional suicide.

He later notes that "There is no expertise in the bureau on trends in voting behavior or in the fine art of drawing election lines. To deliberately influence partisan outcomes, the Census Bureau would need to bring to bear such expertise when making decisions on methodologies— several years in advance of when census results are going to be used for redistricting."

By Ed O'Keefe  | February 13, 2009; 11:35 AM ET
Categories:  Administration, Revolving Door  
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Why not? The rest of the cabinet is all Clinton-era cabinet appointees regurgitated.

Posted by: leeh11281 | February 13, 2009 3:52 PM | Report abuse

I hope the Census Department will always stay as apolitical as possible. Dr. Prewitt has an excellent point regarding citizens' reluctance to give information to those who would allow abuse of the trust.
Dr. Prewitt isn't necessarily a retread. He probably would have been effective during the George Bush years. Look at his potential reassignment to the post as a reinstatement.

Posted by: baybreeze2u | February 17, 2009 11:10 AM | Report abuse

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