White House Nabs Political Control over Census

Sunday, 08 Feb 2009 10:22 AM

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The Obama administration is ending the Census Bureau's traditional autonomy – a move that has Republicans outraged over the White House's politicization of counting Americans.

Last week, an administration official revealed that the yet-to-be-named director of the Census Bureau will report to the White House rather than Commerce Secretary nominee Judd Gregg, a Republican.

That prompted a blistering response from two key Republicans on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

"Any attempt by the Obama administration to circumvent the census process for their political benefit will be met with fierce opposition as this ill-conceived proposal undermines a constitutionally obligated process that speaks to the very heart of our democracy," California Rep. Darrell Issa wrote in a letter to President Barack Obama. The letter was co-signed by North Carolina Rep. Patrick McHenry.

"Requiring the census director to report directly to the White House and placing responsibility for administration of the Bureau outside the Department of Commerce may even violate federal law," the letter stated. "According to Title 13 of the U.S. Code, the Bureau is to be administered 'within, and under the jurisdiction of, the Department of Commerce.' According to U.S. Code, the Executive Branch is limited to providing support for the Bureau in the form of information and resources."

The census counts all Americans every 10 years, and the results are used to allocate congressional seats (redistricting), electoral votes, and some government funding. With congressional elections coming in 2012, the fear is that the 2010 census will be manipulated in a way that results in positive redistricting for Democrats.

The census firestorm erupted after Congressional Quarterly reported that “The decision [on the census director] came after black and Hispanic leaders raised questions about Commerce Secretary nominee Judd Gregg's commitment to funding the census." In 2000, Gregg opposed emergency funding for the census.

According to Politico, "sources on the Hill close to these negotiations say the census would, more or less by default, would fall under the jurisdiction of Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel.”

“This announcement comes as unwelcome news to anyone hoping for a full and accurate census,” McHenry said in a statement. “With Mr. Emanuel calling the shots, the administration is telegraphing its intention to play partisan politics with the census.  I urge the president to honor his commitment to post-partisanship and reconsider this blatantly partisan move.”

The letter sent by McHenry and Issa also targeted Emanuel: “Requiring the Census Director to report directly to White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel is a shamefully transparent attempt by your Administration to politicize the Census Bureau and manipulate the 2010 Census. The Constitutionally-mandated Decennial Census needs to be fair, accurate and trusted.  By circumventing the Secretary of Commerce’s oversight of the Census Bureau and handing it directly to a political operative such as Mr. Emanuel, you are severely jeopardizing the fairness and accuracy of the 2010 Census.

“Mr. Emanuel, who is a former colleague and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman, has a reputation that has been described as “one of hyper-partisanship,” and thus has no business overseeing the activities of the Census Bureau, a division of the Commerce Department that needs to remain free and clear of any and all political considerations.”

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