Census nominee: blunt response to mixing politics and the count

Friday - 5/15/2009, 7:39pm EDT

Max Cacas

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By Max Cacas
FederalNewsRadio

Sometime before the Memorial Day recess, the Senate is expected to take up the nomination of Doctor Robert Groves to be the next director of the U.S. Census Bureau.

Groves faced a confirmation hearing in the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Friday.

Robert M. Groves, a veteran survey researcher from the University of Michigan, also testified during his confirmation hearing that he remains worried about fixing a persistent undercount of hard-to-reach populations, typically minorities living in dense areas who tend to vote for Democrats.

He told the Senate Homeland Security committee that the success of the 2010 census will hinge on an aggressive outreach campaign, but did not say whether he would push for a government halt to immigration raids, as the Census Bureau successfully did in 2000.

But that hasn't stopped House Republicans, who have been vocal in expressing concern about Groves.

As a former Census associate director, Groves pushed for sampling in the 1990s to make up for an undercount of millions of minorities but was later overruled by the Republican Commerce secretary, who called the move "political tampering."

On Friday, Groves said he would not pursue statistical adjustment next year because it is now legally barred for the use of apportioning House seats.

Groves also said adjustments won't be used in 2010 to redraw congressional boundaries, because there is simply no time to prepare for it.

Republicans are also suspicious after the White House indicated earlier this year that it would assert control over the census to address minority concerns over Obama's initial choice of Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH) as Commerce secretary.

Gregg later withdrew, partly citing disagreements over the census, and the White House backed off its plan.

Under questioning Friday, Groves made clear that he would not tolerate political interference either from congressional Republicans or the White House and will step down from his post if necessary.

"Are you prepared to resign if you are asked to act in a way . . . to satisfy a political concern?" asked Maine Sen. Susan Collins, the top Republican on the committee.

"I promise that after I resign I would be active in stopping the abuse in partisanship," Groves responded.

Groves said he planned to work closely with Commerce Secretary Gary Locke and a team of experts so he can make the "necessary tactical and quick management decisions" within the broad plans already in place for the census count beginning next April.

He did not commit on the question of restricting use of sampling in surveys after 2010.

Groves also told the committee that he plans to exert "management discipline" over Census' information technology projects, particularly after the costly and highly-publicized failure of the modernization of the 2010 census and development of handheld computers that were to have been the centerpiece of that modernization.

Those computers are now only going to be used for one preliminary phase of the census, with the follow-up count conducted using pencil and paper forms.

Senator Tom Carper (D-Del.), who chaired Groves' confirmation hearing, says he is satisfied that the nominee satisfactorily addressed concerns about political influence over the 2010 population count.

He told Federal News Radio he is hopeful that Groves' nomination can be reported favorably out of his committee early next week, and sent on to the full Senate before Congress adjourns for the Memorial Day week recess.

Associated Press Writer Hope Yen contributed to this report.

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