Senate confirms new Census director

Texas demographer Stephen Murdock will become the new director of the Census Bureau as the agency moves into its next major test, the 2008 dress rehearsal.

The Senate confirmed him Dec. 20 during a delayed nighttime session. A Census spokesperson said that Murdock will be sworn in and begin work tomorrow.

At a hearing two days earlier, Murdock had expressed support for moving the census process online in the future, if not for the upcoming 2010 Census. Bureau Deputy Director Preston Jay Waite previously testified that the bureau was unwilling to take unnecessary risks to implement Internet questionnaires.

Murdock, director of the Institute for Demographic and Socioeconomic Research at the University of Texas at San Antonio, faces more challenges when he start his new job. The Government Accountability Office wants the bureau to improve its risk management processes or be in danger of falling behind schedule and overbudget. The upcoming decennial census will be the first to eschew paper questionnaires in favor of handheld, networked computers.

Murdock said he was unable to address any issues about budgeting or the performance of the computers until he could see data from previous tests.

Current Acting Director Louis Kincannon resigned as agency head in November 2006, but continued to work until a new director was approved.

Murdock's name had been offered as a choice for director, but his hearing had been delayed for several months. Commerce Department Secretary Carlos Gutierrez expressed relief that the Senate finally confirmed a new director.

“I look forward to working with Steve and the thousands of Census employees who provide such great service to our country,” he said.

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