Obama's Census Nominee Likely to Face Questions on ACORN, Sampling in Confirmation Hearing

By Fred Lucas | May 12, 2009 | 7:05 PM EDT

This Oct. 2003 photo, supplied by the University of Michigan, shows University of Michigan Professor Robert M. Groves, selected by President Barack Obama to be the next census director. (AP Photo/U of Mich.,Paul Jaronski)

Washington (CNSNews.com) – Changing the formula for the U.S. Census could mean shifting up to two dozen congressional seats to the Democrats, a Republican congressman warned Tuesday, as the Senate prepared to consider the nomination of Robert Groves as director of the Census Bureau.

Groves supports “sampling” in the census count. Sampling uses statistical “adjustments” to add people to the Census who apparently were not counted. 

The Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs will hold a hearing Friday on the nomination of Groves, who currently serves as director of the Survey Research Center at the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research.
When Groves was the associate director of the Census Bureau in 1990, he recommended statistical sampling to make up for the projected “undercount” of 5 million people.  

These essentially made-up people--meant to represent the undercounted--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 and error. 
Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), ranking member of the House Subcommittee on Information Policy, Census and National Archives, acknowledged previous comments by Obama Administration officials that they have no plans to push sampling, but he thinks the Groves nomination casts doubt on that assertion.
“They are saying, right now, they have no plans to sample. The way you are forced to sample is by saying we have bad counts. The Census failed. Therefore, we have to sample. We have to estimate,” McHenry told a gathering at the conservative Heritage Foundation on Tuesday.
“Therefore, they can have the political goal they seek, which is taking imaginary Democrats and forcing apportionment and districts to be drawn based on imaginary Democrats,” said McHenry. “You can then draw districts with real Democrats that really vote and can change districts in a real way. So this is the fight that we have on our hands.”
After the nomination was announced last month, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke had high praise for Groves.
“The decennial census faces significant challenges, but I am confident that Robert’s leadership will help us meet those challenges,” Locke said in a statement. “He is a respected social scientist who will run the Census Bureau with integrity and independence.”
The American Statistical Association threw their support behind Groves, calling concerns about sampling “spurious.”
“Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, who will be Dr. Groves’ boss, has assured the Congress that there will be no statistical adjustment in the 2010 count. The Supreme Court has also weighed in against such adjustment for reapportionment cases,” said a statement from the American Statistical Association.
“The taking of a decennial census is the largest peacetime mobilization that occurs in the United States. The 2010 count is less than a year away. It is time for a leader to take charge and get this count done. Dr. Robert Groves is that leader,” ASA added.
The Census, the enumeration of the population that takes place every 10 years to determine the country’s population, is the basis for apportionment of congressional districts.
“We’ve had some in the press say the Census folks say it can’t be done, there’s not enough time,” McHenry told CNSNews.com. “In April of 1999, the news story was the Census Bureau planned to use this kind of manipulation. This thing can be done. It’s a matter of computer software.
“It’s a matter of who’s in charge to plug in the numbers. What we’re talking about is between a dozen and two dozen [congressional] seats. It’s a simple population shift from ex-urban to suburban,” McHenry added.
McHenry hopes to push the Senate committee to ask about sampling, as well as the Census Bureau’s partnership with the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), which was recently indicted in Nevada and is facing investigations in a dozen other states for alleged voter registration fraud.
CNSNews.com reported the partnership between the Census Bureau and ACORN last week – one day after the state of Nevada filed criminal charges against the organization.
“[T]here should be enough concern to prevent them from being an affiliate or partner with the Census,” McHenry said.
ACORN has denied charges in Nevada. Meanwhile, both ACORN and the Census Bureau told CNSNews.com that ACORN would not receive any federal funds. 
There are no rules to prevent ACORN from recruiting enumerators for the Census, said McHenry.
“They don’t have solid requirements for partnership. We’ve asked them directly: What are the standards for being a partner and what are the standards for exclusion in the partnership program?” McHenry said.
“The GAO report says there are no standards for that and the bureau has admitted as much. We have to raise enough furor over this, and the Groves nomination can be a way of forcing this issue and make him answer whether or not an organization that is under indictment should be a partner,” McHenry added.
The Census was also a contentious issue after Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) declined Obama’s nomination to be the Commerce secretary, largely because of White House plans to reportedly place control over the 2010 census directly in the White House, allegedly under the oversight of Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel.
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs responded in February that, “The census is an entity of the Department of Commerce. The Commerce secretary will oversee that, obviously in consultation with Congress and the White House. Historically, the White House, as well as Congress, have been involved. The Census counting will be done by the Census Bureau.”
McHenry believes the White House has left itself some wiggle room to take over the Census.
“I have few concerns about Rahm Emanuel running a non-partisan little league team, much less the Census,” McHenry said. “The fact is, we know what their agenda is. They tried it in 1990, they tried it in 2000.”