- The Washington Times - Friday, January 5, 2001

Commerce Secretary-designate Donald L. Evans appears headed for quick confirmation by the Senate after facing cordial questions at a nomination hearing about how he will handle the decennial U.S. census and efforts to insulate the department from political influence.

Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican and a member of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, said he saw no reason why the full Senate could not approve his nomination shortly after President-elect George W. Bush takes office Jan. 20.

"The mood of the committee was pretty clear," Mr. McCain said after the panel held the first hearing on a Bush Cabinet appointee.

Sen. Ernest F. Hollings, South Carolina Democrat, nominally in charge of the committee until Vice President-elect Richard B. Cheney can break the 50-50 tie in the Senate after Mr. Bush's inauguration, also predicted a swift confirmation.

Mr. Evans, who was Mr. Bush's campaign chairman, was introduced by Sens. Phil Gramm and Kay Bailey Hutchison, both Texas Republicans. And even Democrats such as Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia and Daniel K. Inouye of Hawaii pledged to support him.

Most senators showed the strongest interest in trade issues, pressing Mr. Evans, a longtime banking and oil industry executive, to be attentive to the place of the United States in a global economy and to specific industries, such as steel.

With an eye on a trade deficit that hit $450 billion last year, Mr. Evans pledged there will be "no more important role for the Commerce Department" than to promote U.S. exports and enforce existing trade agreements.

"No sector of the U.S. economy operates in isolation from the global economy," Mr. Evans said. "Every worker and every employer faces the challenge of competition from the world's farthest reaches."

Mr. Rockefeller urged Mr. Evans to consider protection for the beleaguered steel industry, which is facing layoffs and bankruptcies caused by tough competition from overseas. Mr. Evans was noncommittal.

Several Democratic senators politely questioned Mr. Evans as to how the new administration would apply a contentious statistical methodology called sampling to adjust the census numbers that will affect the future disbursement of federal funds, though not the apportionment of congressional seats, which has already been set by the overall population count.

Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, urged Mr. Evans in particular not to stand in the way of the adjustment.

Census Bureau statisticians are due in February to deliver a recommendation to the director, Kenneth Prewitt, as to whether to adjust the official census numbers based on an analysis of a sampling of American households instead of a head count.

Mr. Evans declined to pledge that he would not intervene in the Census Bureau's decision. But he did promise to appear before the committee to explain any decision that affects the census.

Mr. McCain pressed Mr. Evans briefly regarding the role of the Commerce Department in Clinton administration fund-raising scandals, particularly the apparent connection between places for companies on trade missions and their campaign contributions.

His comments underscored the role of Mr. Evans in raising nearly $100 million for the Republican presidential campaign, a record-breaking sum for a White House bid. But Mr. McCain said he would not object to Mr. Evans' nomination and predicted that his long experience in business would be valuable as head of the department.

Mr. Evans, a trained engineer, started out in the oil business 30 years ago, working on drilling rigs in west Texas. He has been chairman and chief executive officer of Tom Brown Inc., a large energy company, for the past 15 years. He also has headed the University of Texas Board of Regents, which oversees higher education in the state.

Mr. McCain pronounced himself "very satisfied" with the reforms put in place by former Secretary William M. Daley, who delegated the task of choosing companies for trade missions to career civil servants, not political appointees. Mr. Evans agreed.

"I think that's appropriate," he said.

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