Associated Press: Locke urges end to GOP block on census nominee
By HOPE YEN
WASHINGTON (AP) — Commerce Secretary Gary Locke on Wednesday urged Congress to immediately end a GOP block on President Barack Obama’s nominee to lead the 2010 census, saying continued delays are putting the high-stakes head count at risk.
Initially put on hold by an anonymous GOP senator, Groves is now among roughly 30 Obama nominees in limbo after Republicans protested the quick timetable for hearings on Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor’s confirmation. Under Senate rules, a senator can hold up a nomination without going public or providing an explanation.
Robert Groves, a veteran survey researcher with the University of Michigan, was easily approved by a Senate committee last month. But Republicans have stalled Groves’ full confirmation vote. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said Republicans aren’t yet in agreement on Groves; his office says it has no information as to why.
“The Census Bureau cannot wait for strong leadership any longer,” Locke said in a statement. “The longer this nomination is held up, the greater the risk to the accuracy and success of the 2010 census. Robert Groves stands ready to run the agency with the independence and professionalism that the American people expect and the Constitution demands.”
Groves, 60, has drawn skepticism from House Republicans. As a former census associate director, Groves pushed for the use of statistical sampling in the 1990s to make up for an undercount of millions of minorities who tend to vote for Democrats, but was later overruled by the Republican commerce secretary.
In his confirmation hearing last month, Groves sought to allay GOP concerns by ruling out the use of broad sampling in the 2010 census, which is used to apportion House seats and redraw congressional districts. Groves has also pledged to resign if he encounters undue partisan interference in tallying census figures.
Maine Sen. Susan Collins, the top Republican on the Senate Homeland Security committee which considered Groves’ nomination, said she believed it was necessary for Groves to be confirmed soon.
“The Census Bureau has acknowledged that it is experiencing critical problems with its management and testing of key information technology systems,” she said. “I do not know who has placed a hold on Mr. Groves’ nomination, nor do I understand the rationale for holding him up. I am very eager to get this qualified candidate on the job.”
The delay on Groves comes as the Census Bureau heads into its final critical months of preparation for the 2010 head count, including an aggressive outreach campaign aimed at hard-to-find groups such as immigrants, non-English speaking residents and displaced homeowners.
The agency has already acknowledged that tens of millions of residents in dense urban areas — about 14 percent of the U.S. population — are at high risk of being missed. Groves has said that if he is confirmed, one of his first steps would be to conduct a thorough risk assessment study to pinpoint ways to improve the count.