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Republicans Continue to Hammer White House Over Census

By Ed O'Keefe

House Republicans will hold a news conference today to announce the formation of a census task force as they continue to urge President Obama to reconsider his plans to have the director of the Census Bureau report to senior White House staffers.

They asserted in a letter to the president yesterday that the proposal is an "unprecedented politicization of the Census" that would "open the door to massive waste and abuse in the expenditure of taxpayer funds, billions of which are distributed on the basis of Census data." (See the full letter after the jump.)

The administration announced its decision last week to have the Census director report to the commerce secretary and White House senior staffers as minority groups raised concerns about Obama's nomination of Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) to serve as commerce secretary.

“As they have in the past, White House senior management will work closely with the Census Director given the number of decisions that will need to reach the President’s desk," White House spokesman Ben LaBolt said in a written statement. "This administration has not proposed removing the Census from the Department of Commerce and the same Congressional committees that had oversight during the previous administration will retain that authority.”

Republicans disagree with the White House's assertion that previous Census directors have worked closely with White House staffers, writing that "There is no legitimate historical precedent for placing the nonpartisan, apolitical Census Bureau under the control of political operatives on the White House staff.”

But in an e-mail, Kenneth Prewitt, who served as Census director from 1998 to 2001, said he worked with White House staff during the 2000 national headcount.

"Issues included budgeting, the advertising campaign, strategies for recruitment of enumerators, etc. Scientific and technical decisions were made solely by the Census Bureau, according to well-established principles and practices of statistical independence. I am confident these principles will prevail in the 2010 Census."

Prewitt said he never met with anyone "more senior than a deputy chief of staff, except once when I met with the entire cabinet on how each member could assist in the large outreach effort then underway."

Other Census directors said they had no White House contact.

"I worked with people in the Office of Management and Budget, namely the chief statistician, who is in the office of information and regulatory affairs," said Dr. Martha Farnsworth Riche, who served as director from 1994 to 1998. "I never met the president or anyone who worked in the White House.”

Barbara Everitt Bryant, who served as director during the 1990 Census, said her only contact with the White House was through the Commerce Department. Still, "I would have liked a little of the bully pulpit help, because one of the big things is just to get everyone to answer the questionnaire. The president would have a lot more clout on that than anything we could have done at the Census bureau."

The current president and Democratic colleagues seem to agree.

“If the president decides to have a new Census director report directly to him, that’s fine with me," said Rep. William L. Clay (D-Mo.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee that oversees the Census. Clay was briefed by the president and Emanuel on the decision during last weekend's House Democratic retreat in Williamsburg, Va. "President Obama represented an entire state, and before that a State Senate district that had a large number of hard-to-enumerate people. He personally understands how damaging an undercount can be to a community and to our nation as a whole."

And no matter what the president decides, "Whoever the new director is of the Census, they will have to hit the ground running," Clay said.

President Barack Obama
The White House
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President,

As Republicans who share a goal of a fair, accurate and trustworthy 2010 Census that counts every person, we are surprised and disappointed by reports that your administration is taking the unprecedented step of moving control of the Census Bureau and the 2010 Census from the Commerce Department to political operatives on the White House staff. We are writing to register our grave concerns about this change, which would result in the unprecedented politicization of the Census and open the door to massive waste and abuse in the expenditure of taxpayer funds, billions of which are distributed on the basis of Census data. We respectfully request that you reconsider and reverse this controversial and harmful course of action.

As noted on the U.S. Census Bureau’s own website," Census data are used to distribute Congressional seats to states, to make decisions about what community services to provide, and to distribute $300 billion in federal funds to local, state and tribal governments each year.” Placing the Census under the control of political operatives in the White House will inevitably corrupt the independence of all of these critical Census functions, and could result in a dramatic increase in abuse and misallocation of taxpayer funds at a time when both parties should be working together to eliminate such waste.

There is no legitimate historical precedent for placing the nonpartisan, apolitical Census Bureau under the control of political operatives on the White House staff, let alone the former chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC). Doing so will, in fact, greatly undermine the goal of a fair and accurate Census count. The Census Bureau is staffed by experienced and talented professionals who are leaders in the field of statistics. In order to produce a fair, accurate and trustworthy count during the 2010 Census, the Census Bureau needs to remain an agency free from political or partisan interference.

This is a bipartisan goal. In fact, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) introduced legislation in September 2008 that specifically stated:

“The credibility and impartiality of data from a Federal statistical agency depends critically on whether the agency operates from a strong position of independence; therefore, the authority for conducting the decennial census of population and any economic or other censuses or surveys should be vested in an agency with a clear and well-defined position of independence.”

The importance of an independent Census was emphasized last year in a letter signed by every living former Census Director, appointed by both Democrat and Republican Presidents, in which they wrote:

“[F]ollowing three decades during which the press and the Congress frequently discussed the Decennial Census in explicitly partisan terms it is vitally important that the American public have confidence that the census results have been produced by an independent, non-partisan, apolitical, and scientific Census Bureau.”[3]

After the 2000 Census, former Committee Chairman Waxman, former Minority Leader Dick Gephardt and former Democratic Caucus Chairman Martin Frost expressed their “hope that the Census Bureau did not suffer from inappropriate political pressure,” and went on to “urge the Bush Administration to allow the professionals at the Census Bureau to continue their work without interference.”[4] Now, prior to the 2010 Census, we express our hope that the Census Bureau will not suffer from inappropriate political pressure. It is critical that we allow the professionals at the Census Bureau to continue their work without interference, and that we assure American taxpayers that the annual distribution of the $300 billion in federal aid based on Census data will not be squandered and tainted by partisan influence.

For these reasons, we respectfully request that you reconsider and reverse your administration’s plans to transfer control of the Census Bureau and the 2010 Census to the White House staff. A fair, accurate and trustworthy Census is essential and vital to the interests of all American citizens and taxpayers.

By Ed O'Keefe  | February 12, 2009; 5:00 AM ET
Categories:  Administration, Congress  
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Comments

As a Democrat and Retired SES, I agree with the Republicans. I was an Agency representative to the Census Bureau for the 2000 Census and learned more than I ever wanted to know about the Bureau.

In the Commerce Department, the Census Bureau has one additional layer of management to ensure that the conduct of the Census is performed in such a way that political boundaries and influence are not compromised.

Posted by: Retired2 | February 12, 2009 9:34 AM | Report abuse

While the majority of Americans may consider the census low on their list of things to worry about, they need to pay attention. If it is a hot button for the Republicans, it should be a hot button for the Democrats and especially Democratic voters. With the exception of this years voting mix, a voter that consistently goes to the polls are retires, upper middle class and upper class citizens. I would contend that this mixture has a strong tendency to vote conservative thus the concern from the Republicans. They also have an incentive to complete the census more often than other groups. On the other hand, the poor and middle class will be more likely to not complete the census. My take on the Republican complaint is that they are well aware of the disparities in the census and wish not to give any more voice and sharing of power to the powerless. On the other hand, President Obama's experience with local community groups has given him a first hand view of the disparities we have in representation. My question is why aren't we more concerned over the make-up of the census department if we are concerned at all?

Posted by: Jody2 | February 12, 2009 10:18 AM | Report abuse

What's good for the goose . . . Wasn't it the GOP who almost dropped funding for the Census at least once, because they wanted a guaranteed result? Maybe they really don't trust the voters. And they have scant reason to do so. After all, trust works both ways. Or not.

Posted by: MouthSore | February 12, 2009 12:50 PM | Report abuse

IT SURE IS GREAT TO SEE THESE REPUBS. WORK SO HARD. THEY ARE FIGHTING EVERYTHING THAT THE GOVERNMENT IS TRYING TO DO. ONE THING THE 2010 CENSUS DATA WILL SHOW IS HOW MUCH CHANGE HAS OCCURED DURING THE 8 YEARS THE GOP RAN THE THREE BRANCHES OF GOVERNMENT. HOW MANY FAMILIES WENT FROM MIDDLECLASS TO POVERTY? WHEN AND WHERE DID THIS OCCUR? WHAT IS THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN JOB LOSE AND CORPORATE TAX AND INDUSTRY DECLINE. IF I WERE A REPUBLICAN I SURE WOULDN'T WANT THIS INFORMATION TO BE SO DETAILED. IT MIGHT SPOIL THE RACE FOR 2012 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION. THOSE STUPID GOP SENATORS ALL BELIEVE THEY ARE SMART. GOOD LUCK MAYBE THEY CAN CHANGE THOSE VOTING DISTRICTS SO THAT MINORITIES DON'T WIN SORT OF LIKE THEY DID IN TEXAS. WAIT, I'M NO LONGER SURE WHAT A MINORITY IS. IF WE COUNT EVERYONE SEPARATE MAYBE WE WILL HAVE FEWER PEOPLE FROM ICELAND THAN FROM ENGLAND BUT IF WE COUNT THEM ALL AS CAUCASION, THEN THERE ILL BE MORE BUT WHAT IF WE COUNT PEOPLE OF COLOR.

Posted by: sm98yth | February 12, 2009 12:53 PM | Report abuse

As I recall, the Republicans recently were mightily resisting statistical adjustments to the census that would make it more accurate, although technical experts agreed that the adjustments were appropriate. The problem to be solved by the adjustments was the undercount of people with low incomes who move frequently, and so are hard to find with the usual census methodology. Such people tend to vote for Democrats, which was pretty plainly the basis for Republican position.

Posted by: jgwill | February 12, 2009 2:17 PM | Report abuse

republicans had better learn to shut up and sit in the back of the bus if they want to be counted how about we count republicans as 3/5 of a person?

Posted by: foobar2 | February 12, 2009 2:19 PM | Report abuse

http://content.ksg.harvard.edu/leadership/index2.php?option=com_content&do_pdf=1&id=6

Posted by: elirosenbaum | February 12, 2009 2:20 PM | Report abuse

"unprecedented politicization of the Census"?

Republicans ought to know. They're responsible for "unprecedented politicization" of every corner of government. Ask Tom Delay? Ask the AG office?

It's just like like their attempts to prevent voter registration. Even though there's no evidence of voter fraud (The SCOTUS said so) they still insist they must prevent people from voting in order to prevent it. Now they'll make a big deal about something that isn't a problem to distract and provoke. ENOUGH!

One thing we do know. They can't be trusted running a government. Look at the mess they've made.

Posted by: thebobbob | February 12, 2009 3:28 PM | Report abuse

Where's Tom Delay, he is really good at working the census numbers....oh thats right, he's been indicted over manipulation of the census numberes, thats to bad, he would have done a great job for the Repubs.

Posted by: vcharle | February 12, 2009 3:52 PM | Report abuse

I am continually amazed by the thought process of SOME democrats. It is as if you truly believe that all republicans are corrupt and hell-bent on keeping the U.S. citizens in the dark while nabbing as much political power as possible. If you would step back and take an honest, unbiased look at the situation you would realize that it is your own party’s leader who is trying to centralize and accumulate power in this instance. You all are so star struck and predisposed to believing that Mr. Obama and others within your own party are infallible and incapable of corruption and fraud that you don't even realize what is occuring here. This shift of oversight from a neutral, unbiased congressional committee, directly to the president has never been proposed in the nation's history and for good reason. This theoretically would allow the president and his administration to have control over where the lines are drawn for voting districts, hardly a power that a single political party should possess. It is not difficult to understand how this could be abused. Even other members of your own party aren’t foolish enough to overlook the corruption this could lead to, just look above at the first poster's comment. And what is with the all caps post above, do you think your message will be more readily accepted if you type in big letters? This is typical behavior of radical thinkers on both sides of the isle, do you believe that if you speak loudly enough and with enough emotional fervor that your opinion will be more correct? Help me understand where this vigor and anger stems from, try stepping back and taking a deep breathe and then approach the issue with some intelligence and a clear thought process.

Posted by: jmaddox4 | February 12, 2009 4:25 PM | Report abuse

Some more food for thought, which political party was it that has recently been implicated in voter registration fraud? Oh that was ACORN, last i checked they were a liberal organization with Barack Obama as one of its founding members right? I'm quite sure that if you study the facts you will find plenty of corruption on both sides. But hey, if you want to blindly follow your emotions and exonerate your political leaders of any wrong doing thats your prerogative i suppose.

Posted by: jmaddox4 | February 12, 2009 4:34 PM | Report abuse

I believe that it is unconstitutional. http://ace.mu.nu/archives/282579.php

Posted by: vrajavala | February 12, 2009 5:28 PM | Report abuse

When I read the constitution, I am always amazed by the wisdom I find there. Our founding fathers understood how important the Census was. That is why it requires an "actual Enumeration" when conducting the counts. I think the last time this was tried was in 1999 and the supreme court found against it.

So no matter what anyone tries, there have to be real people behind the count, not a statisticians best estimate.

Posted by: cbm1 | February 12, 2009 5:56 PM | Report abuse

This action by Obama is really scarey - control of the Census is control of the vote. Looks like he and Acorn are from the same pod.

Posted by: msldcs | February 12, 2009 6:27 PM | Report abuse

YOU REPUBS CAN'T STAND TO SEE THE OTHER SIDE DOING THE SAME THING THAT WAS DONE TO THEM IN THE LAST ADMINISTRATION CONTROL. YOUR OUTCRY NOW! IS SHOWING HOW DISINGENUOUS YOU REPUBS REALLY ARE. NOW YOU HAVE MORAL CONVICTIONS, AND YOU THINK THE PEOPLE MEMORY BANK HAVE SOMEHOW BEEN WIPED CLEAN OF THE LAST EIGTH YEARS, I-THINK-NOT! WELL IT IS NOT WORKING..SO STOP FOOLING YOURSELVES..BESIDE ANYONE WITH AN OUNCE OF SENSE (this excludes Sean Hen; Rush Limb; David Duke, and yes Steele), KNOW YOU JUST WANT TO BE IN CONTROL. YOU CONTROLLED CLINTON TIME ALMOST THE ENTIRE TWO TERMS, NOW YOU WANT TO CONTROL THIS PRESIDENT TERM..FAST FORWARD TO THIS CENTURY PLEASE AND GET ON BOARD OF SAVING OUR NATION INSTEAD OF FIGHTING AGAINST THE PRESIDENT. YOU ALL CAN S**T OR GET OFF THE POT, OK!

Posted by: Chrisjj1948 | February 13, 2009 9:52 AM | Report abuse

TO sm98yth...

You are a complete idiot...I cannot say more.

Posted by: jmrpmc1 | February 13, 2009 6:01 PM | Report abuse

Good to see so many comments from the folks from all over the country that packed the Al Franken vote.

Posted by: bobinnewjersey | February 13, 2009 6:03 PM | Report abuse

TO: Chrisjj1948

Sorry to sm98yth...this guy is an even more complete idiot...try to spell correctly and use 3rd grade grammar when you are shouting.

Posted by: jmrpmc1 | February 13, 2009 6:06 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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