Note: This item has been updated
Poor President Barack Obama. His would-be appointees keep slipping through his fingers. Now, even as the president prepares to make a third try at getting someone who will stick as Commerce secretary—former Washington Governor Gary Locke—his putative pick for director of the Census has dropped out.
That pick was Kenneth Prewitt, the highly respected census director under Bill Clinton (1998–2001). Senator Judd Gregg (R–NH) mentioned Prewitt's name when he announced his 12 February withdrawal from consideration as Commerce secretary; at the time a White House spokesperson confirmed that Prewitt was the top candidate. Prewitt was reportedly ready to answer the call. But in a podcast last week, The New York Times reported he had withdrawn his name from consideration. Prewitt says he withdrew "for reasons personal and professional." An informed source told Science that he determined after a White House interview that there were too many "differences between him and the White House on his role" as census director.
Prewitt, a political scientist now teaching at Columbia University, had bipartisan support as director of the 2000 Census. Most observers he believe could have been trusted to keep politics out of the census, a matter of intense concern because of debates over how best to tally America's under-counted minorities. That concern was not allayed in Republican quarters a couple of weeks ago when the White House made it known that the Census Bureau director would report directly to the White House as well as to the Commerce secretary. At the time Prewitt issued a statement saying he was "confident" that "well-established principles and practices of statistical independence … will be honored in the 2010 census." Nonetheless, he has long advocated making the Census Bureau an independent statistical agency.
According to the Census Project, no other candidates' names have been publicly floated.