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Obama Picks Robert Groves for Census Director

By Ed O'Keefe

Updated 12:59 p.m. ET

President Obama intends to nominate University of Michigan professor Robert M. Groves today to serve as the next Census director, a long-anticipated announcement made less a year before the 2010 census begins. If confirmed, Groves faces several managerial and political concerns surrounding the constitutionally-mandated headcount.

Groves served as the bureau’s associate director from 1990 to 1992 and currently is director of the university’s Survey Research Center. He has researched why people participate in statistical surveys, worked to develop surveys with lower non-response errors and studied how data is collected for surveys.

A congressional aide familiar with Census matters said Groves has “bulletproof scientific credentials” and is “really highly regarded by his peers as a low-key, determined guy who’s been really focused on reducing error in survey research for his whole career.”

A former prison guard with the Vermont State Prison system, Groves earned a bachelor's degree with in sociology from Dartmouth College in 1970, and later an M.A. in statistics and sociology and P.h.D. in sociology, from the University of Michigan.

Several budgetary, procedural and political issues await the next director. Next year’s census will cost at least $15 billion, the most expensive ever. The bureau received $1 billion in stimulus funding to help prepare for the census and will devote up to $250 million for advertising and outreach programs to help boost participation levels among traditionally undercounted groups, mostly minorities in urban areas.

The bureau has been criticized for the development of new handheld, GPS-enabled computers that approximately 140,000 temporary workers will start using this week for address canvassing, or a national verification of each place of residence. Field tests raised concerns about the devices and the bureau decided last April to use them for address canvassing only. The Government Accountability Office has also raised concerns about how the Census will process the hundreds of thousands of new fingerprint records for temporary hires that conduct next year’s follow up visits with people who do not complete Census forms.

The Census Bureau is part of the Commerce Department and the director reports to an undersecretary who in turn reports to the commerce secretary. Republican lawmakers raised concerns earlier this year when Obama administration officials suggested the director would report to top White House aides and the secretary. Obama’s second commerce nominee, Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), partly blamed those suggestions for his decision to withdraw his nomination. Lawmakers have proposed splitting the bureau and establishing it as an independent government agency after the 2010 Census in an effort to avoid future political concerns.

The Groves pick comes as Commerce Secretary Gary Locke completes his first full week on the job. During his confirmation hearings last month, he assured lawmakers that the director will report to him, in consultation with the White House and Congress. Locke has spent considerable time this week assuring various groups of the bureau’s independence and credibility.

"We’re going to make sure that the Census Bureau has the independent leadership it deserves and the professional oversight that Americans demand," Locke said Monday at a Census-sponsored event. On Wednesday, he stressed that personal information collected by the Census will remain confidential, a concern of several groups.

Locke and the eventual director will also have to consider whether to ask the administration to halt immigration raids in order to assure a proper count of every person.

By Ed O'Keefe  | April 2, 2009; 11:30 AM ET
Categories:  Administration, Agencies and Departments  
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Will Mr. Groves be assigned as Chief Numbers Manipulator? Sampling opens the door to massive fraud. This is not good.

Posted by: Tupac_Goldstein | April 2, 2009 12:07 PM | Report abuse

The Constitution mandates a census, not a sampled survey.

Mr. Groves is a great choice for this spot. Congratulations to him.

Posted by: kristtorn | April 2, 2009 1:28 PM | Report abuse

Statistical sampling is scientifically sound and a respected method of accurately gathering statistical data. It has been shown to be more accurate than the incomplete enumeration currently used by the Census Bureau.

Republicans are fearful because they have benefited greatly from the incomplete enumeration. It is telling that they believe an attempt to obtain more accurate data is manipulative.

Posted by: unhappybirthday | April 2, 2009 1:31 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: junkdalejreyes | April 2, 2009 3:15 PM | Report abuse

I am excited about this census.
It has potential to change code and law in the future because of this economic crisis.
i have stated before....census bureau must recognize the "blended families" scenarios that will be prevalent.

Posted by: TheBabeNemo | April 2, 2009 3:53 PM | Report abuse

There are really 3 Constitutional duties, as I see it. They are:

1) Vote (if eligible)
2) Jury Duty
3) Be counted in the Census.

These are not that difficult and we should understand how important each is to our democracy.

Posted by: cyberfool | April 2, 2009 4:27 PM | Report abuse

Three thoughts here:

First, Obama continues to exhibit his lack of leadership experience by breaking another cardinal management rule - each person should have one and only one boss. Dr. Groves will have two.

Second, statistical sampling is never more accurate than properly gathered data. That's why we have elections instead of taking a poll on November 7th.

Third, of course Republicans are worried. Democrats want to populate the electorate with felons, the homeless, illegal immigrants, all the imaginary people ACORN can dream up, and chronic welfare recipients. What a great country we have to look forward to.

Posted by: CrotchetyGeezer | April 2, 2009 8:06 PM | Report abuse

ive got faith in the fact that so far they have screwed up, so far. so im counting on seeing another one. hell these guys would have trouble running a lemonade stand it in hell

Posted by: getsix1 | April 2, 2009 10:17 PM | Report abuse

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