Nominee Promises Politics-Free Census
President Obama's nominee to serve as director of the U.S. Census Bureau ruled out the use of statistical adjustments in next year's Census and said he would resign in the face of potential political influence.
"The director of a federal statistical agency must be able to speak freely on scientific matters unfettered by political influences. If confirmed, I intend to do so," Robert M. Groves told senators Friday morning. He promised a transparent relationship with lawmakers and other Census stakeholders to safeguard the bureau against political activity.
Seeking to allay fears of congressional Republicans concerned with potential White House interference, Groves said he would resign if faced with political pressures, and in response to a question from Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), said he would then actively fight political interference at the Census Bureau if he had to step down.
Once a supporter of statistical adjustment, Groves said it is not an option for next year's Census since the Supreme Court has banned its use in congressional reapportionment.
Obama tapped Groves, 60, to serve as Census director in early April. Currently the director of the University of Michigan's Survey Research Center, he is considered a leading expert on survey methodology and previously served as the Census Bureau’s associate director from 1990 to 1992.
Republicans have paid close attention to the Groves nomination, devoting more ink and rhetoric to his selection than most of Obama's more high-profile nominees. GOP concerns stem from suggestions earlier this year that the Census director would report to the commerce secretary and senior White House aides, a suggestion the White House later rejected. Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) cited those suggestions as one of the reasons he removed his name from consideration to serve as commerce secretary.
In a statement issued this morning, Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele warned the Obama administration against any political interference. Earlier this year, House Republicans established a special Census Task Force to track potential White House involvement. Despite these concerns, Collins was the lone Republican senator at today's hearing and appeared only briefly to question Groves.
In addition to political concerns, Groves faces several budgetary, procedural and technological challenges. Next year’s census will cost at least $15 billion, the most expensive ever. Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) said during the hearing that the Census will cost the taxpayers $100 per American household to count everyone.
In an effort to avoid an undercount of minority groups, the bureau will devote an unprecedented $250 million next year to advertising and outreach programs to help boost participation levels. National Hispanic groups have said they will keep close tabs on the Census efforts to count Latinos.
House lawmakers have also proposed legislation that would separate the Census Bureau from the Commerce Department, establishing it as an independent agency. The bill would also grant future Census directors fixed five year terms, a move Groves said he supports.
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