Thursday, February 05, 2009

Administration Plans to Bypass Commerce — and Gregg — on 2010 Census

The director of the Census Bureau will report directly to the White House and not the secretary of Commerce, according to a senior White House official.

The decision came after black and Hispanic leaders raised questions about Commerce Secretary nominee Judd Gregg ’s commitment to funding the census.

Gregg, New Hampshire’s senior senator, voted in committee and on the floor for a 1995 Republican budget that envisioned the elimination of the Commerce Department. Of even more concern to black and Hispanic leaders, Gregg battled President Clinton over a request for “emergency” funding for the 2000 census.

“Secretary of Commerce-designate Judd Gregg ’s record raises serious questions about his willingness to ensure that the 2010 census produces the most accurate possible count of the nation’s population,” the National Association of Latino Elected Officials said in a release on Tuesday, the day Gregg was named to the post. “Policymakers and planners at all levels of government rely on these data to make important decisions about their services, such as the number of teachers that will be needed in their classrooms, the best places to build new roads, or the best way to provide job training.”

The selection of Republican Gregg for Commerce — a plum post often given out to a big fundraiser or personal friend in the president’s own party — left many Democrats scratching their heads and others fearful that Gregg might not defend favored agencies and programs with the department.

“Sen. Gregg’s record of previously voting to abolish the Commerce Department and his attempts to block President Bill Clinton’s efforts to secure adequate funding for the 2000 census raise troubling concerns regarding his commitment to the department’s core missions,” Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman Barbara Lee , D-Calif., said Tuesday.

It was not immediately clear whether the White House plan to circumvent Gregg on Census Bureau matters would assuage lawmakers who raised questions about his nomination.

“We have no comment at this time,” a Lee spokesman said late Wednesday.

Gregg is expected to sail through the confirmation process, and a spokeswoman for him said earlier this week that the senator “has a strong record of working aggressively to preserve the policies of Commerce.”

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