Commerce Nominee Pledges White House Won't Oversee 2010 Census

Commerce Secretary nominee Gary Locke has pledged to senators that the White House will not assert greater control of next year's national head count. 

Under pressure from concerned lawmakers, Locke insisted the 2010 census would be overseen by his department, an aide to Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, told FOXNews.com on Thursday.

Republicans have been fighting Obama's plan to have the next Census Bureau director report to both the commerce secretary and White House senior officials. The decennial census has deep political implications because it is used to redraw congressional districts.

Click here to read about concerns the Census Bureau won't be prepared for the 2010 Census.

Locke met with Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller and ranking member Hutchison on Wednesday.

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The aide said Locke told Hutchison that he received assurances from the White House that it would remain under Commerce Department control and that any statistical analysis would be done for accuracy purposes only, a reference to the partisan debate over sampling. 

Democrats have long supported using mathematical estimates to count urban residents and immigrants but Republicans say that method can skew the census and that the Constitution requires a physical head count.

Republicans reacted with cautious optimism to news about Obama's apparent reversal.

"Gov. Locke's private reassurances that plans to politicize the census process have been reversed are a reassuring first step, but ultimately, the administration will have to take the transparent step of announcing the reversal of policy publicly in order to assuage our concerns," said Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., ranking minority member on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, who had raised the specter of a lawsuit against Obama's plan.

"We do intend to make use of the confirmation process and oversight hearings to have concerns regarding the use of sampling and the administering of the census addressed by Gov. Locke and the administration. Moving forward, I am hopeful that we can all work together and advance the shared goal of conducting a full, fair and nonpartisan census," Issa said in a written statement.

The census plan has triggered a flurry of legislative activity.

House lawmakers from both sides of the aisle introduced a bill Tuesday that would make the Census Bureau an independent agency before next year's head count. A Senate subcommittee held a hearing Thursday on the census plan and Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee are pushing for an investigation.

Locke is the third nominee to head the Commerce Department after the withdrawal of Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico, who is under investigation for pay-to-play allegations, and Republican Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, who said he could not resolve his conflict with the White House over its economic agenda and its census plan.

The White House first signaled interest in shaping the census when members of the Congressional Black Caucus complained about the nomination of Gregg, who once voted for a broader budget measure that would have abolished the Commerce Department, and opposed increased funding for the 2000 census.