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The Census Bureau and the 2010 Census

Rating: Molehill

The Charge

The Obama administration's suggestion in February 2009 that the director of the U.S. Census Bureau would report to White House aides in addition to the commerce secretary1,2  initiated an outcry from lawmakers who accused the administration of attempting to politicize and influence census results and take over control of the Census Bureau.3   The Census Bureau, housed within the Department of Commerce, is conducting the decennial census in 2010.

After President Obama nominated Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH) as secretary of commerce in early 2009, a number of groups representing minorities expressed concern that the census would not adequately count minority groups under Sen. Gregg’s direction.4  Because the director of the Census Bureau reports to the commerce secretary, the groups were concerned by Sen. Gregg’s previous opposition to emergency census funding in 2000.5,6  

After lawmakers objected to the White House’s plan to have the Census Bureau report to the White House as well as the commerce secretary, the White House stated that their idea had been in the works before the concerns from minority groups.7,8  The administration then attempted to reassure lawmakers that the Census Bureau would remain in the Commerce Department.9,10

Following this controversy, Sen. Gregg declined his nomination, citing his concern over differing views with the administration regarding the census as one of his reasons for withdrawal.11  The Obama administration has since dropped its suggestion that the director of the Census Bureau would report to White House aides in addition to the commerce secretary.12

As his confirmation hearing, Census Bureau director Robert Groves13 stated that he would resign if he experienced political pressure when conducting the census.14  Groves also attempted to calm fears that he would use statistical sampling to estimate populations, as the Supreme Court ruled that statistical sampling for the census was illegal for the purpose of deciding Congressional apportionment.15

Is it political interference in science?

No. To date, there is no evidence that the Obama administration has interfered with the Census Bureau, but we are keeping a watchful eye on the progress of 2010 census.

What is the best way to ensure scientific integrity?

The 2010 U.S. census should be conducted in a neutral way, free from political interference from the administration and the political parties.

For more analysis of scientific integrity charges against the Obama administration, see the Mountain or Molehill feature.

  1. Rucker, P. 2009. "Census Director to Work Directly with White House." The Washington Post, February 5.
  2. O’Keefe, E. 2009a. "Nominee Promises Politics-Free Census." The Washington Post, May 15.
  3. Rucker 2009.
  4. Dann, C. 2009. "Obama shifts Census oversight, triggering angry protest by Republicans." CongressDaily, February 6.
  5. Ibid.
  6. O’Keefe, E. 2009b. "Gregg Links Withdrawal to Census Concerns." The Washington Post Federal Eye, February 12.
  7. Rucker 2009.
  8. The White House Office of the Press Secretary. 2009. "Press Briefing 2/13/09." February 13.
  9. Rucker 2009.
  10. The White House Office of the Press Secretary 2009.
  11. O’Keefe 2009b.
  12. O’Keefe 2009a.
  13. O’Keefe, E. 2009c. "Robert Groves Confirmed as Census Director." The Washington Post, July 13. 
  14. O’Keefe 2009a.
  15. O’Keefe 2009c.


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