Robert Santos was confirmed Thursday as the next director of the US Census Bureau, becoming the first person of color to permanently lead the nation’s largest statistical agency.
The Senate approved Santos, a third-generation Mexican-American statistician from San Antonio, Texas, for the oversight position of an office that conducts the census once a decade, often described as the largest civilian mobilization in the country, as well as surveys that create the nation’s data infrastructure.
The new director inherits a Census Bureau workforce recovering from running the toughest count of US residents in recent memory. The 2020 census was challenged last year 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 largest programs, the one-year American Community Survey, which provides a big picture of the United States on everything from commute times to education. . Bureau officials announced earlier this year that the 2020 survey will not be released in its regular format this fall due to data collection issues during the pandemic.
In his new role, Santos, 66, will be tasked with leading the agency as it lays the groundwork for running the next census in 2030, as well as leading the latest releases of data collected in the 2020 census and oversee other office programs.
During his confirmation hearing, Santos told senators that his dueling passions are statistics and helping people. He is a past president of the American Statistical Association and was vice president and chief methodologist at the Urban Institute.
“These opportunities that I had made me believe that I had to pay it forward, and I tried to do it every day of my life,” Santos said. “Census Bureau data helps us weave together to form a more perfect union. Although this is a political position, I am not a politician.
Santos’ predecessor, Steven Dillingham, resigned last January, amid processing data for the 2020 census, while facing criticism that he was granting President Donald Trump’s request to produce information on the citizenship at the expense of data quality.
Office workers came under significant pressure from two people appointed by Trump to determine who was in the United States illegally 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 Inspector General’s Office. The effort to collect information on citizenship was abandoned soon after.
At the time, Dillingham described the events as a misunderstanding and said there were no potential violations of laws or regulations.
During Dillingham’s tenure, the Trump administration tried unsuccessfully to ask a citizenship question on the 2020 census questionnaire and named a handful of political appointees who statisticians and Democratic lawmakers said feared politicizing the once-per-decade enumeration of every US resident. The president also issued two guidelines that advocacy groups say were part of efforts to suppress minority and immigrant participation in the 2020 census.
Following Dillingham’s resignation, the agency’s chief operating officer, Ron Jarmin, took on the role of interim director. Santos will serve the remainder of Dillingham’s term, which expires at the end of the year, and then begin a new five-year term.
After Santos’ confirmation, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer described him as a “perfect fit” for the job.
“This is exactly the kind of person our country needs to oversee our census – an impartial and very experienced professional in foreign policy,” said Schumer.
Santos told senators during his confirmation hearing that the Census Bureau needed more independence and transparency to build public confidence in the statistical agency, and that the agency’s career staff needed more independence and transparency. to be supported after having undergone “a tumultuous year 2020”.
The 2020 census has seen unprecedented hurdles due to the coronavirus pandemic, as well as wildfires in the west and hurricanes along the Gulf Coast. The pandemic has forced the Census Bureau to postpone until April the release of the state population figures used to allocate seats in Congress. The release of the redistribution data used to draw congressional and legislative constituencies has been postponed until August.
Looking ahead to the next census in 2030, Santos said he would be in favor of a proposal that never saw the light of day until the last census – combining questions about race and Hispanic origin. A previous Census Bureau study found it would increase response rates for Hispanics, who may not know how to answer the racial question because they are often of mixed and ethnic origin.
The Bureau of Budget and Management had considered pairing the questions for the 2020 census, but the Trump administration decided to separate the question of race from that of ethnicity.
“I can use my personal perspective as a Latino, and I can use my research experience and leadership position, to work with OMB to ensure that appropriate attention is given to this specific issue.” , said Santos.
Santos is the first person of color to be confirmed as permanent director of the Census Bureau. James Holmes, who is African American, was appointed interim director on a temporary basis in 1998 following the resignation of Martha Riche.
Follow Mike Schneider on Twitter at https://twitter.com/MikeSchneiderAP
Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.