Commerce Secretary Gary Locke has tapped three Census Bureau veterans to serve as part-time advisers on operational, management and contracting issues while President Obama’s nominee to serve as Census director awaits a full Senate confirmation vote.
The trio includes Dr. Kenneth Prewitt, who served as bureau director from 1998 to 2001 and was widely believed to be the leading candidate for the position until suddenly withdrawing earlier this year with little explanation.
Obama instead nominated Dr. Robert Groves for the job in April, but his nomination has been held up ever since he cleared the Senate’s government affairs panel in late May.
As Groves awaits a final vote, Locke will consult with Prewitt, National Opinion Research Center president John Thompson and former Census chief financial officer Nancy Potok. The trio will draft a list of suggestions for Locke, who will pass them off to Groves if he’s confirmed.
The move, first mentioned in late April and not formally announced until today, has raised the ire of congressional Republicans who fear the White House is “back dooring” Prewitt into the director’s job without formal congressional confirmation.
“By bringing in these outsiders with strong personalities, the Bureau runs the risk of having too many cooks in the kitchen challenging the actions of career civil servants who have worked for 18 months to ensure a successful 2010 Census,” Kurt Bardella, spokesman for Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), said in a statement. Issa leads a House GOP Census Task Force established earlier this year to monitor the Obama administration’s execution of next year’s headcount.
“We are within ten months of Census Day, the last thing we need is a structural change that could jeopardize the success of the Decennial,” Bardella added.
Commerce officials stress that the three are merely serving as advisers and that Groves “will run the agency with the independence and professionalism that the American people expect and the Constitution demands,” according to a department statement set for release today. The consultants “will use their decades of experience to tell us just what steps require immediate attention to make the 2010 Census a success.”