A Republican lawmaker is calling for an investigation of a plan by the Obama administration to have the U.S. census managed by White House staff.
Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, fears that the move could jeopardize a reliable census in 2010. That, in turn, could trigger allegations of political chicanery in redrawing the lines that determine districts and help shape electoral fortunes.
"I'm deeply concerned" about "the White House controlling the day-to-day operations of the Census Bureau," Blackburn told Fox News.
Obama's plan, she wrote in a letter to the committee requesting an investigation, "may jeopardize the important and nonpartisan work product of a sensitive administrative agency, and potentially disrupt completion of a competent, reliable 2010 census.
"The American people deserve a non-partisan census in 2010, and we hope the committee will ensure that goal comes to fruition by holding an oversight hearing on the administration's potential plans to reduce the future secretary of commerce's authority over the agency," she wrote.
Also signing the letter will be her fellow committee members – 36 Democrats and 22 Republicans.
"We certainly hope to demonstrate that there is substantial interest among members to it," said Claude Chafin, a spokesman for Blackburn.
Blackburn said she has gotten a lot of feedback from local and state elected officials and constituents who are concerned about Obama's move. She hopes her letter will prompt California Rep. Henry Waxman, the Democrat who heads the committee, to conduct a hearing.
Every 10 years, as mandated by the U.S. Constitution, a census is taken of the U.S. population. The results determine the destination of billions of dollars in federal funding for everything from road maintenance to school construction. The census also determines the number of representatives each state sends to Congress, the composition of the Electoral College and how congressional lines are drawn.
Political parties use the data to help redraw districts so they can maximize their own party's clout while minimizing the opposition, often through gerrymandering.
White House officials announced that, though the census will technically remain part of the Commerce Department, Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel will oversee it at the White House. That has prompted an outcry because Emanuel is considered among the most partisan of Democrats. He ran the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in 2006 and was instrumental in getting Democrats elected into the majority.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, called the move nothing more than a "political land grab."
In 2000, Utah, which has three congressmen, came very close to landing a fourth House seat based on U.S. Census numbers, but the nation's most conservative state fell short by a few hundred votes because the Census Bureau wouldn't count Mormon missionaries from Utah serving temporarily overseas.
The decision to move the census into the White House was announced after Obama named New Hampshire Sen. Judd Gregg, a Republican, to be his commerce secretary. When Obama nominated New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson to be commerce secretary -- he later withdrew his name -- he suggested that Richardson would be in charge of the census.
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