While funding for the 2020 Census and Census Bureau dominated the news in October, news in November focused largely on rumored potential changes in the bureau’s leadership. On November 21, Politico magazine broke the news that the Trump Administration was converting the Census Bureau deputy director to a political appointment and nominating Dr. Thomas Brunell, a political science professor at the University of Texas-Dallas, to serve. In its article, “Leading Trump Census Pick Causes Alarm,” Politico said such a move “would mark the administration’s first major effort to shape the 2020 census.”
News of Dr. Brunell’s possible appointment was widely questioned and criticized by census stakeholders both inside and outside of Washington, D.C. Dr. Brunell, the author of “Redistricting and Representation: Why Competitive Elections Are Bad for America,” has testified in numerous court cases on behalf of Republican efforts to redraw congressional districts. As a result, some see Dr. Brunell’s possible appointment, particularly in a non-confirmable Senate position as Census Bureau deputy director, as an attempt to politicize the census. Census observers are also concerned that Dr. Brunell does not have sufficient operational expertise to effectively serve as Census Bureau deputy director during this pivotal lead up to the 2020 Census. The deputy director position has traditionally been held by career civil servants with significant statistical knowledge and experience leading a large statistical organization.
As of the beginning of December, the administration had not officially announced its intention to nominate Dr. Brunell nor had the Department of Commerce or Census Bureau officials confirmed rumors of his impending nomination.
In November, the Census Bureau, along with the rest of the federal government, was funded via a continuing resolution, which expired on December 8. On October 31, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross testified before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee in support of the Administration’s revised Fiscal Year 2018 request to provide an additional $187 million for Census 2020 preparations. Witness statements as well as a video recording of the hearing are posted online.
On November 7, 34 members of the United States Senate signed a letter to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross urging the Trump Administration to prioritize the appointment of a permanent Census Bureau director. The letter also urged the administration to support “more robust funding” for the Census Bureau above its revised FY 2018 request to fund testing and outreach activities aimed at hard-to-count populations.
Two other letters were sent to congressional policymakers in November. One letter, coordinated by the Census Project, endorsed the $187 million Trump Administration request for FY 2018 while saying that millions more were needed for activities tied to reaching the hard-to-count populations in the 2020 Census. A second letter, co-signed by more than 20 business/trade associations, also endorsed the administration’s request and called for more monies to be appropriated. The letter was organized by the Insights Association and co-signed by associations including the National Association of Realtors, the National Association of Home Builders and the Internet Association.