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Senate panel to vote this morning on nominees to lead OPM, Census Bureau

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Two Obama administration candidates for nuts-and-bolts jobs are scheduled to get confirmation votes at 10 a.m. today from the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

First up, according to a committee advisory, is the nomination of John Thompson to head the Census Bureau. Thompson, who previously worked for the bureau as far back as the 1970s in such posts as associate director for the decennial census, is currently president and CEO of the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, according a White House bio.

The Senate panel is also supposed to vote on the nomination of Katherine Archuleta for director of Office of Personnel Management. Archuleta, who has held an array of jobs in and out of government, helped run Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign and also spent about two years from 2009 to 2011 as chief of staff for the Labor Department.

Confirmation hearings for both Thompson and Archuleta produced no fireworks, so presumably this morning’s votes will be similarly routine. For anyone wanting to watch the action online, however, here’s a link to the committee’s site. Assuming that the two win the panel’s approval, the only thing standing between them and another stint of public service is a vote by the full Senate.

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Go West, young man

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Here’s something for the stats geeks out there: The Census Bureau yesterday officially named Plato, Mo., as the mean center of the U.S. population. What exactly does that mean, you ask? Well, if the United States was a flat, weightless plate (and assuming all 308 million citizens weighed the same), Plato would be the point at which the US would balance perfectly.

Technically it’s a spot 2.9 miles east of Plato, population 109. (And if you really want to be a stickler about it, it’s at 37.517534 degrees north latitude, 92.173096 degrees west longitude.) The center shifted 23.4 miles westward over the last decade, and since 1790 has moved 873 miles from its original spot in Chestertown, Md. The Census Bureau posted a nifty interactive map, which we’ve embedded below, showing how the population center has shifted over the last 220 years. It’s particularly interesting to see how its path feinted north after the Civil War, but by the mid-20th century was definitely trending southward.

The Census Bureau and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration also unveiled a commemorative “geodetic control mark” planted near the official center, which will serve as a reference point for mapmaking and charting infrastructure.

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“ACORN pimp” filmmaker targets Census

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O'Keefe's mug shot

Conservative activist James O’Keefe, who became notorious last year after dressing up as a 70′s-style pimp and releasing videos he claimed showed the community organizing group ACORN was aiding and abetting prostitution, has set his sights on the U.S. Census Bureau.

O’Keefe posted a hidden camera video today on Andrew Breitbart’s Big Government blog purporting to show a Census Bureau supervisor instructing temporary workers to fudge their time sheets. O’Keefe, who worked for two days receiving training to be a temporary Census taker, then apparently told a few superiors that he was being paid for four hours of work he didn’t do, but his concerns were met with a resounding, “Meh.”

But just like how a rock band’s second album is usually a pale imitation of its smash debut, the Census video lacks the spark of the original ACORN video. Instead of shots of a sexy girl in a miniskirt and images of O’Keefe in a Superfly pimp costume, we get drab Census workers in a Dunkin’ Donuts and gray government buildings. And instead of apparently scandalous talk of prostitution and money laundering, we get lessons on stretching a half-hour lunch break to a full hour.

In a statement sent to FedLine, the Census Bureau called the video “selectively edited,” but said it would investigate the possible timesheet falsification and take appropriate action. But Census couldn’t resist calling O’Keefe an “admitted criminal” — he pleaded guilty May 26 to misdemeanor charges of unlawfully entering the offices of Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La. The agency said O’Keefe quit after his background check showing the pending charges came back, but before they could fire him.

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Was the Census Bureau ad worth $2.5 million?

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Alex Parker rounds up some reactions to the Census Bureau’s $2.5 million advertisement during last night’s Super Bowl. The ad was aimed at boosting participation in the 2010 Census: If people don’t mail in their census forms, the agency has to send census workers to their homes, and that gets expensive.

The ad was expensive, too — hence the criticism that the agency wasted money. But according to the Census Bureau, if 1 percent of Super Bowl viewers decide to mail in the 2010 Census form, it will save $25 million. That’s a 10-to-1 return on investment.

So the question is: Did the Census Bureau get that kind of return? And this is where I’m a little skeptical. The ad didn’t really encourage viewers to complete their census forms, or explain why it’s important, or why it saves money. It basically just said, “hey, the government conducts a census!” So I wonder how effective it was. (I’m sure the Census Bureau will do some follow-up research to see if the ad worked.)

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Critics slam GOP sham “census” form

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A Republican Party fundraising letter that looks an awful lot like the official 2010 Census form is drawing complaints from all sides.

The mailing from Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele is disguised as a survey and is labeled the “2010 Congressional District Census.”  The survey even includes a “Census Tracking Code” and is brandished with the words “census document.”

A GOP spokesman said the mailing was not intended to mislead voters, noting that it states in several places that it’s from the Republican Party. But lawmakers from both parties are criticizing the letter, saying it could be confused with the actual Census, which all U.S. residents are required to complete by law.

A Census Bureau spokesman tells the Associated Press that the agency has received several complaints about the mailings and is reviewing how to respond.

Dennis Johnson, director of the Census Bureau’s regional office in Kansas City, told a local newspaper that the timing of the letter was unfortunate to say the least, since the agency is just now beginning to mail out actual Census forms.

My biggest concern is that it might be confusing to some residents who get this and then get the real one in a couple of months.

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Census worker’s death ruled a suicide

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Kentucky law enforcement officials today said Bill Sparkman, the Census worker who was found hanged Sept. 12 in a national forest with “fed” scrawled on his chest, actually committed suicide. According to an Associated Press report, authorities said Sparkman staged his death to look like a murder:

Sparkman had recently taken out two life insurance policies that would not pay out for suicide, authorities said. If Sparkman had been killed on the job, his family also would have been be eligible for up to $10,000 in death gratuity payments from the government.

He was not eligible for a separate life insurance policy through the government because his census work was intermittent, Census Bureau spokesman Stephen Buckner has previously said.

The Census Bureau suspended door-to-door interviews in the rural county after Sparkman’s body was found.

Anti-government sentiment was initially one possibility in the death. Authorities said Sparkman had discussed perceived negative views of the federal government in the area.

UPDATE: The Lexington Herald-Leader has more details on the case here.


Census Bureau gets new leader

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The Senate yesterday afternoon confirmed Robert Groves as the next director of the Census Bureau.

Robert Groves will lead the 2010 Census

Robert Groves will lead the 2010 Census

The confirmation comes at a critical time for the Commerce Department bureau, which is about to undertake its once-a-decade tally of the U.S. population.

Groves has the skills to tackle this challenge, top senators say. From 1990-1992, he was associate director for statistical design, standards and methodology at the Census Bureau. For the last eight years, he has directed the University of Michigan Survey Research Center.

“Dr. Groves is a brilliant social scientist, he has impeccable credentials and the administration would have had a hard time appointing a better-qualified candidate to lead the Census Bureau,” said Joe Lieberman, Ind.-Conn., who chairs the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

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Video tour of federal green roofs

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Last week, I wrote about how federal agencies are using some of the billions of dollars in stimulus funds flowing to them for facility and energy projects to replace or retrofit their building rooftops with green alternatives.

Options being considered include thin solar films that are imbedded into roofs, additional insulation to repel heat, and vegetative roofs such as a 5,000-square-foot garden patch atop the seven-story Interior Department headquarters building in Washington.

Other agencies have outfitted their roofs with vegetation, recognizing both the environmental and economic benefits. Our videographer, Colin Kelly, recently toured two examples outside the nation’s capital in Suitland, Md. Follow the links for video of green roofs at the Census Bureau headquarters and at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration facility.

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Gregg out at Commerce

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Update: Judd Gregg spoke to congressional reporters a few minutes ago and denied he offered his name as commerce secretary, saying a “third party” brought his name to the White House’s attention.

“I didn’t campaign for this job,” he said, adding that he did call the White House after hearing he was a candidate to check on the status of the nomination.

Gregg said the reorganization of the Census Bureau was only a “slight issue” in his decision to pull his name from consideration. He said President Barack Obama is a “strong, effective and good president” and that his nomination “wasn’t a good fit and was not fair to (Obama).”

He said repeatedly that the decision to step down helps him remain true to himself and not serve in a situation where he couldn’t remain true to his values.

I said yes, but that was my mistake, not his. After 30 years of being myself, it would be hard to assume another role.

He said he was too caught up in the “euphoria” of being nominated to focus on the details.

When they asked me if I’d do the job, I said yes … I should have focused sooner on the implications of being in the Cabinet.

Gregg, a Republican from New Hampshire, said he won’t run for re-election in 2010. He declined to say if he will vote on the stimulus bill Friday in the Senate, but he did add that the markets will respond to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner’s “Tarp 2″ proposal announced this week once they hear the details.

– Rebecca Neal

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Friday Fun Facts: Happy Holidays!

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Hanukkah starts Sunday and Christmas and Kwanzaa are about a week away. To get you in the holiday mood, we bring you a special winter holiday edition of Friday Fun Facts. Today’s fun facts come to us courtesy of the Census Bureau, or as I like to call it, the Fun Fact Bureau.

  • The Postal Service will deliver more than 20 billion pieces of mail throughout the season.
  • Last year holiday shoppers spent $30.5 billion on gifts.
  • Christmas tree farmers sold $493 million worth of pine trees last year; $114 million worth were sold in Oregon alone.
  • Approximately $1.3 billion worth of candles were shipped to stores in the U.S. in 2002, many of which were lit during Hanukkah and Kwanzaa celebrations.
  • Approximately $475 million worth of bubbly was shipped to U.S. wine sellers in 2002.

Bonus: There are many festively named cities and towns in the U.S. including Santa Claus, Ind.; Santa Claus, Ga.; Noel, Mo.; Rudolph, Wis., Dasher, Ga.; Snowflake, Ariz.; Holly Springs, Miss.; Mount Holly, N.C.; and Champaign, Ill.

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