updated 4/2/2009 2:04:06 PM ET 2009-04-02T18:04:06

President Barack Obama has chosen a professor who supports the use of statistical sampling and has clashed with Republicans to lead a high-stakes U.S. Census head count.

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The White House will announce the selection of Robert M. Groves later Thursday, according to a Commerce Department official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the individual was not authorized to speak before the official announcement.

The U.S. does a census every 10 years, with the next one due in 2010. The count is crucial because the population figures determine the amount of federal funding and representatives in Congress each state receives.

Groves, now a professor at the University of Michigan, is a former Census Bureau associate director of statistical design, serving from 1990-92. He has spent decades researching ways to improve survey response rates. He must be confirmed by the Senate.

When he was the bureau's associate director, Groves recommended that the 1990 census be statistically adjusted to make up for an undercount of roughly 5 million people, many of them minorities in dense urban areas who tend to vote for Democrats.

But in a fierce political dispute that prompted White House staff to call the bureau and express opposition, the Census Bureau was overruled by Republican Commerce Secretary Robert Mosbacher, who called the proposed statistical adjustment "political tampering."

The Supreme Court later ruled in 1999 that the use of statistical sampling cannot be used to apportion House seats, but indicated that adjustments could be made to the population count when redrawing congressional boundaries.

Current Commerce Secretary Gary Locke has said there are no current plans to use sampling for redistricting.

Groves would take over at a critical time. Census officials acknowledge that tens of millions of residents in dense urban areas — about 14 percent of the U.S. population — are at high risk of being missed due to language problems and a deepening economic crisis due to the financial meltdown that has displaced homeowners.

Democrats and Republicans for years have disagreed on whether the census should be based on a strict head count or cross-checked against a "statistical adjustment" to include hard-to-track people, particularly minorities, who might have been missed.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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