July 13, 2009
Census Briefs #70
The U.S. Senate voted today to confirm Dr. Robert Groves as Director of the Census Bureau, overcoming objections of several Republicans more than three months after President Obama nominated the renowned survey methodologist and former Census Associate Director to head the nation's largest statistical agency. Senators voted 76 - 15 to end debate on the nomination and then proceeded to give final approval to the nominee by voice vote.
Sen. Thomas Carper (D-DE), chairman of the census oversight subcommittee, told his colleagues that the census was one of the few specific obligations of the federal government mentioned in the Constitution and that the decennial census requires thousands of people and years of preparation. "We can't turn a light switch on next April and take a census," the chairman said. Sen. Carper called Dr. Groves "an inspired choice" and said the nominee was "ideally suited to this position" because of his credentials in survey methodology and his prior experience as a senior Census Bureau official.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), the senior Republican on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which has jurisdiction over the Census Bureau, said that her committee had "scrutinized this nominee thoroughly" and had unanimously approved his nomination on May 20. The Census Director "will need to quickly take action to ensure an accurate, actual enumeration," Sen. Collins stated, adding that the outcome must be "accurate, objective, and free from even the appearance of political interference."
Sen. Collins described Dr. Groves as "superbly well-qualified" to head the agency. Addressing colleagues who were concerned that the Obama Administration will politicize the census for partisan purposes, the senator recounted Dr. Groves' pledges under oath at his confirmation hearing "to resign and actively work to stop any action to improperly influence the census for political gain." Dr. Groves also testified at the May 15 hearing that he had no intention of using statistical sampling methods to adjust the 2010 census, the senator said, and that he was "committed to a transparent census process." "I don't know what more you could ask" of a nominee, Sen. Collins concluded, adding that Dr. Groves is "not a political person; he is a scientist, a researcher, a statistician."
Sen. Collins also criticized the Census Bureau for failed procurements that she said "have not been a pretty picture" and have resulted in a "dramatic increase in [the] cost of the 2010 census." The senator said that the large investment in new technology for 2010 had "gone to waste" because of "gross mismanagement," referring to a significant reduction in the Field Data Collection Automation (FDCA) contract for GPS-equipped handheld computers to gather information from households during field operations.
HSGAC Chairman Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) called Dr. Groves "a brilliant social scientist" who is "well-positioned to see [the decennial census] through to a successful conclusion." "The Administration would have had a hard time appointing a better-qualified candidate to lead the Census Bureau," the chairman said in a statement applauding the final vote.
Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), who introduced the nominee at his confirmation hearing, said Dr. Groves "may be the best candidate ever nominated for this position." Dr. Groves holds Master of Arts degrees in statistics and sociology and a doctorate in sociology from the University of Michigan and most recently served as Director of the University's Survey Research Center, Institute for Social Research. Sen. Levin noted that six former Census Directors, appointed by both Republican and Democratic presidents, had written a letter in support of Dr. Groves' nomination.
The President named Dr. Groves to head the Census Bureau on April 2, but the nomination stalled after Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) and Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) objected to a confirmation vote until they received assurances from the Administration that there would not be a statistical adjustment of the 2010 census and that the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) would not play a role in the decennial count. During today's debate on a motion to "invoke cloture," or end debate, on the nomination, Sen. Vitter said he had written to the Administration in June, asking for assurances that ACORN -- one of thousands of official 2010 Census partners that have agreed to promote participation in the census -- "will have nothing to do with the census." Sen. Shelby said that he had sought similar assurances from the Administration in March. Both senators said they had not received responses to their letters.
The two senators discussed charges brought against several workers ACORN recruited to help with voter registration during the 2008 election cycle. Sen. Vitter suggested that, as a decennial census partner, ACORN would perform "exactly the sort of activity of signing people up" as it did in recruiting workers who produced "fraudulent voter registrations." As a non-governmental organization, ACORN enlisted workers to help people complete voter registration applications, but was not in a position to register voters, which generally is the responsibility of local registrars who review applications before adding people to the voting rolls. Sen. Carper pointed out that the role of partner organizations is to encourage people to respond to the census and that partners receive no money or grants from the Census Bureau. "This is not about ACORN," the chairman said, saying the group's employees would not "go door to door." The Census Bureau will begin recruiting more than three million applicants this Fall, to fill about 1.2 million temporary census positions over the next year. Partner organizations communicate the availability of census jobs to their constituencies but play no direct role in considering and hiring census workers or in collecting information from unresponsive households. All temporary census employees must pass a test and will undergo FBI background and fingerprint checks before they are approved for work.
Sen. Shelby said he could not support Dr. Groves if the nominee did not "denounce" ACORN's role as a 2010 census partner organization. He expressed concern that the political party "controlling the census" could affect the distribution of political power in the redistricting process and "skew" the allocation of federal funds to communities their members represent. Census data are used to apportion seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, to draw federal, state, and local district lines, and to allocate more than $400 billion annually under federal formula grant programs.
The fifteen Republican senators voting against the motion to end debate on the nomination were Sens. John Barrasso (WY), Sam Brownback (KS), Jim Bunning (KY), Saxby Chambliss (GA), John Cornyn (TX), Mike Crapo (ID), John Ensign (NV), Michael Enzi (WY), Johnny Isakson (GA), Jim Risch (ID), Pat Roberts (KS), Jeff Sessions (AL), Richard Shelby (AL), David Vitter (LA), and Roger Wicker (MS).
The National Association for Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund, a member of the 2010 Census Advisory Committee, issued a statement shortly after the final vote, calling Dr. Groves "the right person to lead the Bureau at this critical time of planning for next year's enumeration" and saying that the confirmation "fills an important leadership void at the Census Bureau." The nonprofit organization urged the Census Bureau to ensure that the 2010 census communications and outreach program "takes into account the current economic and social realities" caused by natural disasters and the economic crisis. NALEO also "strongly condemn[ed] the efforts of a small group of organizations with extremist views, and even a member of Congress, calling for a boycott" of the census. The National Coalition of Latino Clergy and Christian Leaders has urged undocumented residents not to participate in the census until the Administration and Congress adopt comprehensive immigration reform. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) has said publicly that her family will refuse to answer any census questions other than the number of people living in their household, even though census response is required by law. "A boycott would only exacerbate the undercount, which would hurt neighborhoods and communities," NALEO said. "Encouraging anyone not to participate in the census is simply wrong."