Wednesday, December 1, 2021

First colored person approved as the next head of the Census Bureau

Robert Santos was confirmed on Thursday as director of the US Census Bureau, becoming the first person of color to become permanent head of the country’s largest statistics agency.

The Senate approved Santos, a third-generation Mexican-American statistician from San Antonio, Texas, to oversee the bureau, which conducts once-every-decade censuses, often described as the largest civilian mobilization in the country, and polls that create information infrastructure of the nation.

Confirmation came at a slight bump in speed when Florida-based Republican Senator Rick Scott last month blocked a swift approval attempt and asked for an official vote, saying he feared Santos was politicizing the bureau without offering further explanation. During the confirmation hearing, Santos, an education statistician, told senators that he was not a politician, although the position was a political appointment.

The new director has inherited the Census Bureau’s staff who are recovering from the most difficult US census in recent years. Last year, the 2020 census was hampered by the pandemic, natural disasters, delays and attempts at political interference by the Trump administration.

The pandemic has also disrupted one of the Census Bureau’s most important programs, a one-year survey of the American community that provides a broad picture of the United States on everything from commute to work to educational attainment. Earlier this year, bureau officials announced that the 2020 survey would not be released in its usual format this fall due to data collection issues during the pandemic.

In a letter last summer to Senate leaders, a coalition of civil rights groups called on Santos to confirm.

“It is important that the bureau is headed by a Senate-approved director who can speak with the level of authority needed to build universal confidence in the results of a complex and controversial census,” reads a letter sent to The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

In his new role, the 66-year-old Santos will be responsible for leading the agency as it lays the groundwork for the next census in 2030, as well as collecting the latest releases of data from the 2020 census and overseeing the bureau’s other programs.

During his confirmation hearing, Santos told Senators that his passion for dueling is statistics and helping people. He is a former president of the American Statistical Association and vice president and chief methodologist at the Urban Institute.

“The opportunities I had made it possible for me to believe that I had to pay in advance, and I tried to do this every day of my life,” Santos said. “Census Bureau data is helping to weave us together to form a better alliance. Although this is a political position, I am not a politician. “

Santos’ predecessor, Stephen Dillingham, stepped down last January in the midst of processing data for the 2020 census, facing criticism for agreeing to President Donald Trump’s demand for citizenship information at the expense of data quality.

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Bureau staff were under significant pressure from two of Trump’s political appointees to find out who is illegally in the U.S. using federal and state administrative records, and Dillingham, also appointed by Trump, set a deadline for the bureau’s statisticians to provide him with a technical report on the effort. , according to the Office of the Inspector General. Efforts to collect citizenship information were discontinued shortly thereafter.

At the time, Dillingham described the events as a misunderstanding and said there were no potential violations of laws or regulations.

During the Dillingham administration, the Trump administration tried unsuccessfully to include citizenship in the 2020 census questionnaire and named a handful of political appointees that statisticians and Democratic lawmakers feared would politicize the vote count of every U.S. citizen every ten years. The president also issued two directives that human rights groups said were part of an effort to stem the participation of minorities and immigrants in the 2020 census.

Following Dillingham’s retirement, the agency’s chief operating officer, Ron Jarmin, temporarily took over as director. Santos will fill Dillingham’s remaining term, which will expire at the end of the year, and then begin a new five-year term.

Santos told Senators that the Census Bureau needs more independence and transparency to bolster public confidence in the statistical agency, and that the agency’s staff needs to be nurtured after it has gone through a “turbulent 2020”.

The 2020 census faced unprecedented obstacles due to the coronavirus pandemic, as well as wildfires in the West and hurricanes on the Gulf Coast. The pandemic forced the Census Bureau to delay until April the release of the state’s population data, which was used to allocate seats in Congress. The release of data on the redistribution of constituencies used to paint constituencies and legislative districts was delayed until August.

Looking ahead to the next census in 2030, Santos said he would support a proposal that never came to fruition until the last census – combining race and Hispanic issues. Previous Census Bureau study found that this would increase the response rate of Hispanics who may not know how to answer the racial question because they are often of mixed race and ethnicity.

The Ombudsman Office considered combining questions for the 2020 Census, but the Trump administration has decided to separate racial from ethnicity.

“I can use my personal perspective as a Hispanic and I can use my research experience and my leadership position to work with OMB to make sure that this particular issue is given the proper attention,” Santos said.


Follow Mike Schneider on Twitter at

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