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Census Nominee Would Resign to Avoid Politics

By Ed O'Keefe

President Obama's nominee to serve as Census director said he would rather resign than permit politics to interfere with the census, according to written responses to questions submitted by lawmakers in advance of his confirmation hearing.

Asked about potential political interference, Robert Groves stated that any such outside involvement would cause long-term damage to the Census Bureau.

"Political review of statements on statistical matters and limitations on presentations of scientific matters cannot be allowed," he wrote, stating later that "if there are attempts at political interference in the statistical activities of the Census Bureau, which are so powerful that the director himself/herself cannot resist them, he/she must resign. I believe this and am prepared to resign, if necessary."

Groves said he is comfortable with Commerce Secretary Gary Locke's previous assurances of a politics-free census and has no reason to believe the White House will interfere.

The University of Michigan professor goes before a Senate panel Friday and is likely to face tough questions from Republicans still concerned about potential White House involvement in next year's headcount.

Groves also used his responses to suggest the agency he's been asked to lead is suffering from a dearth of expertise due in part to the quality of math and science education in American schools.

"The Census Bureau is perhaps at one of its lowest ebbs in scientific talent," he wrote, adding that many bureau employees are "new to the game" and lack necessary experience.

"The future technical talent crises will not be solved by the Census Bureau alone, as it is principally a problem of the pipeline of U.S. citizens now being training in quantitative sciences," he said.

In an effort to combat the shrinking talent pool, Groves hopes to partner with universities to address his concerns about young talent and possibly team up with other federal statistical agencies to combine resources when appropriate.

Groves also raised concerns about an impending brain drain at the Census Bureau and all of the federal government's roughly one dozen statistical agencies. An estimated 45 percent of bureau staff will be eligible for retirement within a year.

If confirmed by the end of this month, Groves will assume leadership at the Census Bureau with a little more than six months before the Census begins, but his predicament is nothing new, since four of the last six Census were led by directors who assumed their jobs in the previous year ending in “9." Most of the planning and strategy for next year's efforts were established years ago by previous directors, so he instead would serve as the public face of the headcount and work with Congress and the White House to raise awareness and address any concerns.

Despite Groves's assurances, Republican members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee today will release a history report of sorts, in an effort to remind Democrats that previous attempts to interfere with the Census have failed. It notes that the Constitution grants the functioning of the Census to Congress, and not the executive branch (even though Congress has since delegated responsibility for it to the Commerce Department). The report also states that statistical adjustments or the use of estimates with the Census have been rejected since the Founding Fathers first wrote the Constitution.

Republicans have raised concerns about the Census ever since a White House spokesman first suggested earlier this year that the Census director might report to the eventual commerce secretary and senior White House aides. That suggestion was cited as one of several reasons that Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) withdrew his name from consideration for commerce secretary. House Republicans have especially seized on the issue ever since. Such concerns are warranted, Republicans say, since Census data is used to reapportion congressional districts and distribute billions of dollars of federal funding.

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will consider Groves' nomination on Friday at 9:30 a.m.

By Ed O'Keefe  | May 11, 2009; 2:20 PM ET
Categories:  Census  
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The people of the United States deserve a fair and unbiased head count. Continued delay of the confirmation process for the Census Director nominee is unforgiveable. Congress should remember who they work for and expedite the confirmation of Mr. Groves and Let the Head Count begin!

Posted by: Gator76 | May 12, 2009 10:08 AM | Report abuse

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