White House Softens Language on 2010 Census Plan

The White House this week suggested a subtle shift in its plans for overseeing the next year's national head count following Republican criticisms over past administration comments.

"The president wants to ensure that the census conducts a fair and accurate count. The census director will report to the commerce secretary," White House spokesman Benjamin La Bolt said in a statement.

"Like in every census under Democratic or Republican administrations there will be interest in Congress and at the White House in this national priority," La Bolt added.

Republicans had been opposing 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.

La Bolt's statement, which doesn't specify the White House's role, comes a week after Commerce Secretary Gary Locke pledged to key senators that his department would retain control of the census.

The census plan has triggered a flurry of legislative activity.

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

The White House first signaled interest in monitoring the census when black and Hispanic lawmakers complained about the nomination of Republican Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, who once voted for a broader budget measure that would have abolished the Commerce Department and who opposed increased funding for the 2000 census.

Gregg withdrew his nomination after he said he could not resolve his conflict with the White House over its economic agenda and its census plan.