Robert Groves stepping down as Census director

Tuesday - 4/10/2012, 3:20pm EDT

Robert Groves is stepping down as the head of the Census Bureau to become provost of Georgetown University.

Groves will begin his new position in late August.

"While I am honored by this rare personal and professional opportunity to help lead Georgetown to even greater heights than it already enjoys, I must also tell you that I am enormously proud of the work we have accomplished together over the past three years," Groves wrote in an email obtained by Federal News Radio.

Dr. Robert Groves (photo courtesy of Census.gov)

Deputy Secretary of the Commerce Department Rebecca Blank wrote in a blog post that Groves' departure will be "bittersweet."

"This is a significant and highly deserved honor for him — and a major capstone to his notable academic career," Blank wrote.

She said Groves has helped increase efficiencies at Census in his nearly three years at the agency.

Groves was confirmed as director in June 2009. In a blog post today, Groves pointed to the accomplishments of the past few years.

"The wonderful 2010 Census team defied all the naysayers to complete a successful census on time and $1.9 billion under budget," he wrote.

Blank said Groves helped organize a more cost-efficient Census 2020 and led a formal reorganization of the agency, "reestablishing the research directorate to spur technical innovation. With the implementation of a corporate hiring and job rotation program, Dr. Groves has worked to expand the breadth of skills among Census staff to effectively lead the Bureau into the 21st century."

Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), who chairs the Senate subcommittee on federal financial management, said Groves joined Census when the agency "faced many operational and management challenges" but confronted them head-on.

"Through his impressive skill set and background in issues related to the Census and to statistics, he helped right the ship, ensuring the successful completion of the 2010 Decennial Census," Carper said in a release.

In a statement, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said Groves's tenure at the head of the agency "is proof that appointing good people makes a big difference, and I urge the President to look for another servant of Robert's caliber when naming his replacement."

The agency is in the midst of an 18-month restructuring of its field offices to reduce costs by $15 million to $18 million annually beginning in 2014. When completed, six of the agency's 12 regional offices will permanently close, affecting about 330 out of the 7,200 employees in the field office workforce. This is the first field office restructuring at Census in 50 years.

Advances in technology have made restructuring possible. In his blog post, Groves pointed to improvements in the agency's IT operations.

Census has "launched an internal social media tool that will improve internal communication/collaboration; they've built a private cloud to increase computing efficiency; they're addressing the mix of research and production computing needs; they've built a Center for Applied Technology, which is a safe environment to try out high-risk, high-payoff ideas," he wrote.

Previously, Groves was the Census' associate director of statistical design, methodology and standards. He also has worked as a professor at the University of Michigan and the University of Maryland.

In a time when federal employees have become a target of deficit cuts, Groves wrote, "We all read in the papers each day some commentary on how federal employees are unmotivated, unproductive, and wasteful. I've met many who defy that stereotype. They do, however, need leaders who listen to their ideas, leaders who will support them when they trip attempting stretch goals, leaders who believe that government agencies can be as efficient as any other organization."

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