Census Nominee Vows No Sampling, No Politicization of 2010 Count
May 15, 2009 - 8:09 PMPresident Barack Obama's nominee to head the U.S. Census Bureau pledged Friday that he will keep politics out of the 2010 population count and will not push for sampling – a controversial method he has previously advocated.
Robert Groves, currently director of the University of Michigan Survey Research Center, is also a former associate director of the Census Bureau in the early 1990s.
In his sparsely attended confirmation hearing to head the agency on Friday in front of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, he took questions and praise from just three senators present.
After numerous reports that the Obama administration allegedly sought to move oversight of the Census from the Commerce Department into the White House, thus making it prone to potential politicization, Groves asserted to the panel that credibility and accuracy will be the cornerstones of the enumeration.
“If the information is believed to be slanted by partisan influence, the credibility of the statistics is destroyed,” he said. “Once destroyed, the public trust cannot be easily restored. I am pursuing this post because I believe strongly that the country needs an objective, nonpartisan, professional Census Bureau. If confirmed, I will give my full energy toward that end.”
The Census determines the country’s population, which in turn determines the number of congressional representatives for each state. Census results can also determine how federal funds are allocated to states and localities. The 2010 Census is estimated to cost $14 billion.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), ranking member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, pressed her concerns.
“As you know from our previous discussion, there has been a lot of concern about the White House’s possible interest in affecting inappropriately the census, and I appreciate the commitment you’ve given,” Collins said. “Would you be prepared to resign if you were asked or pressured to do something, to take some action to satisfy a political concern?”
Groves answered, “More than that, if I resign, I promise you today that, after I resign, I will be active in stopping the abuse from outside the Census Bureau.”
On another key matter, Groves pledged not to support “sampling” or “statistical adjustments” in the Census. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke already testified to Congress that the Obama administration would not seek sampling, as the Clinton administration had before being blocked by the courts.
“The Supreme Court has ruled on matters affecting the Census, most notably the banning of the use of statistical adjustment for reapportionment,” Groves said. “I understand the basis of the decennial census. I agree fully with Secretary Locke’s testimony that statistical adjustment of the census is eliminated as an option for reapportionment and, further, that statistical adjustment will not be used for redistricting.”
When Groves was associate director at the Census Bureau he recommended statistical sampling to make up for the projected “undercount” of 5 million people in 2000. These essentially made-up people – intended to represent the undercounted population – are assigned a gender, race, income, and generalized region based on the Census Bureau’s formula.
Republicans have argued that such a formula is prone to politicization.
In 1999, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Department of Commerce vs. U.S. House of Representatives that the Census Act prohibits the use of statistical sampling in calculating the population for apportionment of U.S. House districts (determining how many House seats each state has).
However, the decision left open the possibility to using sampling for redistricting (determining how the districts are drawn).
“Will you advocate for statistical adjustment or the use of sampling in the 2020 Census?” Collins asked. “Obviously, the practical reality is, you probably couldn’t use sampling for 2010 at this late date.”
Groves said, “I have no plans to do that for 2020.”
A topic that did not arise at the hearing is the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or ACORN, a liberal activist group under investigation in several states and recently indicted in Nevada for voter registration fraud.
ACORN is a partner in the census to recruit enumerators. Commerce Department spokesman Nicholas Kimball told reporters after the hearing that Groves “will not be available” to make any comments.
Seven former directors of the Census Bureau signed a letter to the committee endorsing Groves for the position.
The 2000 Census reported a net undercount of 1.2 percent, missing 6.4 million people. However, it overcounted by 6.4 percent, counting 3.1 million more than once. That produced a net undercount of 3.3 million people.
Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), who chaired the hearing, and Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii.) were the only other senators in the hearing.
Carper expressed hope that Groves would be confirmed by the end of the next week.
“The Census Bureau has taken steps to get the census back on track, but it is imperative that a strong management team is in place so that it can remain on the right track,” Carper said at the hearing.
“An inaccurate census count can be a major setback for millions of communities already struggling for economic survival. With that said, I do not have any doubt Dr. Groves is up to the challenge and that he commands the respect necessary both inside and outside the government to restore confidence in the agency’s competence and integrity,” Carper added.