Biden’s Census nominee promises independence, transparency

President Joe Biden’s nominee to lead the U.S. Census Bureau told a Senate committee on Thursday that he would bring transparency and independence to the nation’s largest statistical agency, which was challenged by the pandemic, natural disasters and attempts at political interference while carrying out the 2020 census.

If confirmed, Robert Santos, a third-generation Mexican American, would be the first person of color to be a permanent head of the agency.

Santos told members of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee that he would rely on technological advances for innovation and would recognize career staffers who “endured a tumultuous 2020.”

Although the director of the Census Bureau is a political position, Santos said he wasn’t a politician. He is a former president of the American Statistical Association and vice president and chief methodologist at the Urban Institute.

The bulk of the work on the 2020 census is over. The numbers that determine how many congressional seats each state gets were released in April, and the figures used for drawing congressional and legislative districts are on schedule to be made public next month.

Much of Santos’ attention, if he is confirmed, will be on preparing for the next once-a-decade census in 2030 and also ongoing demographic and economic surveys.

Earlier this week, a group of academic associations and civil rights groups urged a prompt confirmation for Santos.

Santos, a native of San Antonio, also has been director of survey operations for the Survey Research Center at the University of Michigan; vice president of statistics and methodology at NORC at the University of Chicago; and senior study director at the Institute for Survey Research at Temple University.

“His expertise … matches well with the work of the census, especially in the bureau’s work to reach hard-to-count populations such as communities of color,” the academic and civil rights groups wrote in a letter to the Senate committee.

The previous Senate-confirmed director, Donald Trump-appointee Steven Dillingham, resigned in January after facing criticism that he was acceding to the Trump administration’s demand to produce citizenship information at the expense of data quality in the 2020 census. The Biden administration has abandoned that effort.

The agency’s chief operating officer, Ron Jarmin, has been serving as acting director.

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