Census Bureau Director Resigns, Complicating Outlook for 2020 Decennial

On May 9, John Thompson announced his plans to step down as Director of the Census Bureau effective June 30. Thompson’s resignation comes at a critical time for the Bureau as it ramps up its activities ahead of the 2020 Census and continues to face periodic threats to the American Community Survey. So far, no details have emerged about a potential replacement. The Deputy Director position at the Bureau has been vacant since Nancy Potok left to become Chief Statistician of the United States in January.

No reason was given for Thompson’s departure in the middle of a year-long extension to his term (which had expired at the end of 2016).The week before this announcement, Thompson appeared before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies for an oversight hearing on the 2020 Census. Chairman John Culberson (R-TX) had several sharp questions for the Director on projected cost overruns on IT systems for the decennial census, the government’s largest non-military undertaking. Culberson also expressed concern about the American Community Survey, calling it “intrusive.”

The next director will have to contend with a funding climate in which investment in the Bureau, which typically increases significantly in the years leading up to a decennial census, has fallen well below similar points in the cycle, with a fairly small increase passed for fiscal year (FY) 2017 and nearly flat funding proposed by the Administration for FY 2018. Without adequate investment, the task of conducting a fair and accurate 2020 Census will become increasingly challenging—and more expensive down the line.

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