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Groves Rules Out Use of Sampling in 2010 Census

The Census Bureau's U.S. Population Clock (Census.gov)

WASHINGTON -- President Obama's pick to lead the Census Bureau on Friday ruled out the use of statistical sampling in the 2010 head count, seeking to allay GOP concerns that he might be swayed to put politics over science.

Robert M. Groves, a veteran survey researcher from the University of Michigan, also testified during his confirmation hearing that he remains worried about fixing a persistent undercount of hard-to-reach populations, typically minorities living in dense areas who tend to vote for Democrats.

He told the Senate Homeland Security committee that the success of the 2010 census will hinge on an aggressive outreach campaign, but did not say whether he would push for a government halt to immigration raids -- as the Census Bureau successfully did in 2000.

"This is an area of great concern," Groves said, suggesting a media campaign that might utilize government leaders and even Obama to encourage people to respond. "Groups cannot believe the participation in the census will harm them."

Groves, 60, faces a relatively smooth confirmation due partly to Democrats' strong majority in the Senate.

But that hasn't stopped House Republicans, who have been vocal in expressing concern about Groves. As a former census associate director, Groves pushed for sampling in the 1990s to make up for an undercount of millions of minorities but was later overruled by the Republican Commerce secretary, who called the move "political tampering."

On Friday, Groves said he would not pursue statistical adjustment next year because it is now legally barred for the use of apportioning House seats.

Groves also said adjustments won't be used in 2010 to redraw congressional boundaries, because there is simply no time to prepare for it.

"I am pursuing this post because I believe strongly that this country needs an objective, nonpartisan, professional Census Bureau," he said. "If the information is believed to be slanted by partisan influence, the credibility of the statistics is destroyed."

Republicans are also suspicious after the White House indicated earlier this year that it would assert control over the census to address minority concerns over Obama's initial choice of Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., as Commerce secretary. Gregg later withdrew, partly citing disagreements over the census, and the White House backed off its plan.

Under questioning Friday, Groves made clear that he would not tolerate political interference either from congressional Republicans or the White House and will step down from his post if necessary.

"Are you prepared to resign if you are asked to act in a way ... to satisfy a political concern?" asked Maine Sen. Susan Collins, the top Republican on the committee.

"I promise that after I resign I would be active in stopping the abuse in partisanship," Groves responded.

Groves said he planned to work closely with Commerce Secretary Gary Locke and a team of experts so he can make the "necessary tactical and quick management decisions" within the broad plans already in place for the census count beginning next April.

He did not commit on the question of restricting use of sampling in surveys after 2010.

The Supreme Court ruled in 1999 that the wording of the federal law barred broad uses of statistical sampling to apportion House seats. Justices, however, indicated that adjustments could be made to the population count when redrawing congressional boundaries and distributing federal money.

Census officials have 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 because of language problems and an economic crisis that has displaced homeowners.