Obama Picks Robert Groves for Census Director
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.
| April 2, 2009; 11:30 AM ET
Categories: Administration, Agencies and Departments
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