Coalition sees urgent need to fill census director position

The politically charged and logistically daunting decennial census will be under way in just over a year, but the bureau that administers the 2010 survey may face a delay in the appointment of a leader.

The Census Project, a coalition including the American Statistical Association, the NAACP and the U.S. Council of Mayors, is the latest interest to issue an urgent call to the White House for quick appointment of a census director. On Monday, the group requested a meeting with White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel to discuss the appointment.

The previous director, Steve Murdock, resigned shortly before President Obama's inauguration, as is customary for political appointees. His former deputy, Thomas Mesenbourg, is the acting director.

Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Financial Management Subcommittee Chairman Thomas Carper, D-Del., whose panel oversees the census, wrote to Obama last week urging him to fill the post quickly.

Census administrators are concerned that the appointment of a director for the bureau hit a snag when Obama's pick for Commerce secretary, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, withdrew from consideration as a result of a pending ethics investigation in his home state.

"While we appreciate challenges facing the administration at the Department of Commerce," the Census Project members said in their letter, "we do not feel the appointment of a Census Bureau director should be delayed any longer."

There is no requirement that the Commerce secretary be appointed or confirmed before the Census Bureau Director.

Sources point to former Census Director Kenneth Prewitt as a favorite within the statistical community for the job. Prewitt, who served at the helm of the Census Bureau from 1998-2001, has testified before Carper's subcommittee about the hurdles facing the next census, which begins April 1, 2010.

The census has historically faced criticism from those who see it as a politicized process that affects congressional redistricting and federal spending.