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Census 2010: Robert Groves Reaction

By Ed O'Keefe

Whenever a president nominates someone for a top government position -- like Obama's plans to nominate Robert M. Groves for census director -- it sets off a flurry of press releases from lawmakers and interest groups for and against the nomination. As an example, here are excerpts from the e-mail that's arrived in The Eye's inbox since yesterday's Census announcement:

Commerce Secretary Gary Locke:

“The decennial Census faces significant challenges, but I am confident that Robert’s leadership will help us meet those challenges. He is a respected social scientist who will run the Census Bureau with integrity and independence.”

Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management that oversees the upcoming 2010 Census:

"Dr. Robert Groves is just the person the Census Bureau needs now to stay on track and ensure a smooth, successful 2010 Census. ... I look forward to working with Dr. Groves, and encourage him to reach out to his predecessor, Dr. Steve Murdock, who in the past year has done significant work himself in getting get the 2010 Census back on track."

Rep. William Lacy Clay (D-Mo.), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Information Policy, Census and National Archives:

"Dr. Groves is a nationally recognized expert in statistical research and survey methodology. I look forward to working closely with him to reduce the undercount of minorities and to increase the national mail-back response rate for the census questionnaire. The Census is America's largest peacetime project. As Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Information Policy, Census and National Archives, I am committed to helping the Census Bureau conduct the most accurate enumeration in U.S. history."

Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY), former ranking member of the Census Subcommittee:

“I’m thrilled that the President has chosen a scientist who is an expert on data quality to ensure that we have most accurate census possible, and to reverse the neglect of the prior administration.”

House Minority Leader Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio):

“Conducting the census is a vital Constitutional obligation. Its findings help determine how hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars are spent, as well as how the American people are represented in Congress. It should be as solid, reliable, and accurate as possible in every respect. That is why I’m concerned about the White House decision to select Robert Groves as director of the Census Bureau. As associate director of statistical design at the Census Bureau in the 1990s, Mr. Groves reportedly advocated a scheme to use computer analysis to manipulate Census data, rather than simply conducting an accurate count of the American people. That plan was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1999, but we will have to watch closely to ensure the 2010 census is conducted without attempting similar statistical sleight of hand.”

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), ranking Republican on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, also expressing concern about Groves's support of a statistical adjustment to the 1990 Census:

“If true, this is an incredibly troubling selection that contradicts the Administration’s assurances that the census process would not be used to advance an ulterior political agenda. We have a constitutional obligation to count every American -- not use the end result of a statistical formula."

Statement from the NALEO Educational Fund, a Latino leadership organization:

"This position needs a professional who understands the science and substance of the Census, who understands the Bureau and who is fully committed to a process that counts everyone. Dr. Groves is an excellent choice on all three counts. We look forward to working with him to guarantee that the 2010 Census achieves a full and accurate count of all Americans. Unfortunately, the Latino population has never been fully counted. The 2000 Census, despite producing a net over count of the total population, produced an undercount of Latinos of around 3%, or one million Latinos. Let us be clear: the only way to achieve a successful census is to count all Latinos."

A statement from the Consortium of Social Science Associations, the Council of Professional Associations on Federal Statistics, the American Sociological Association, the American Statistical Association, the Population Association of America and the Association of Population Centers:

"His scientific colleagues have acknowledged his expertise and leadership by selecting him to lead the National Science Foundation’s Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences directorate Advisory Committee and the current National Research Council of the National Academies’ review of the Bureau of Justice Statistics. In addition, his peers have given him numerous distinguished awards, and selected him for many national committees to evaluate programs and to provide advice."

Wade Henderson, president of Leadership Conference on Civil Rights:

“The civil rights community is pleased that the White House is expected to nominate Dr. Robert Groves to head the Census bureau. Dr. Groves is one of the nation’s most respected survey methodologists and a leading authority on the issue of non-response in surveys. Dr. Groves’ scientific and management expertise and professionalism in this area is sorely needed given the many challenges the 2010 Census will be facing, including a general distrust of the government in a post 9/11 world, concerns about privacy, language barriers, displacement due to the economic downturn and natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina."

By Ed O'Keefe  | April 3, 2009; 1:57 PM ET
Categories:  Agencies and Departments  
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Accuracy is critical for political representation and demographic data. Intelligent policy decisions must be predicated on accurate information. The framers of the Constitution recognized the need for this knowledge and mandated it as a duty of our government.

Another reason a full census is important is for genealogical researchers like me. Many times the census data is the only way to link one's family to its true history.

Prior to 1850 the national census simply reported the name of the head of household, the number of residents of either sex in several age groups, and possibly the number of slaves.

I have used the first census - 1790 - to establish where certain ancestors lived and who their neighbors were. These records are critical pieces of our national history.

Every ten years we count noses and obtain other demographic data which informs our policies. Extrapolated data is not data - it is an educated guess and inherently inaccurate. Future generations will mine this data for reasons we can't predict, and it must be accurate.

Posted by: capndad | April 6, 2009 11:17 AM | Report abuse

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