Democratic Sens. Kamala D. Harris (Calif.) and Gary Peters (Mich.), both members of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, took issue with the Census Bureau’s vacant positions of director and deputy director ahead of the 2020 Census.
The two senators released a letter in December to Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross stressing the challenges the census will face without permanent leadership, especially with the impending decennial census, which the lawmakers called “the nation’s largest, most complex peacetime activity.”
“The Census Bureau has been without a permanent director since former Director John Thompson resigned on June 30, 2017, and has been without a permanent deputy director since former Deputy Director Nancy Potok resigned in January 2017,” the senators wrote. “This is a critical time for the 2020 Census. The Government Accountability Office has placed the upcoming decennial census on its High-Risk List because it faces a myriad challenges, including massive delays in implementing a complex information-technology infrastructure and historic lows in public trust in government.”
The senators also expressed concern over a report that the Trump administration intends to appoint Thomas Brunell as the bureau’s deputy director, citing his support of a state law that would have significantly curtailed early voting in Ohio and disproportionately affected Black voters.
“Dr. Brunell not only lacks the managerial experience needed as the Census Bureau faces critical management challenges ahead of the 2020 Census, but has a partisan work history that conflicts with the traditionally nonpartisan reputation of the Census Bureau,” they said. “[T]he American Community Survey — the ongoing part of the census — surveys 3.5 million addresses annually and produces data that guide trillions of dollars in public resource allocations and private sector investments. Dr. Brunell is a political science professor who has never managed a large organization before, with a partisan, political work-history that includes serving as a Republican witness in a number of redistricting and Voting Rights Act cases.”
The lawmakers took particular umbrage with Brunell’s book, “Redistricting and Representation: Why Competitive Elections are Bad for America.”
“In his book, Dr. Brunell argues that less-competitive congressional districts, an electoral model that results in gerrymandering and increased political polarization, is the most desirable outcome from a redistricting process,” the senators wrote.
Harris previously questioned Ross at a committee hearing on the 2020 Census, where she pressed him on cuts to personnel and other issues.
“The appointment of Dr. Brunell would be a significant departure from past practices and would further undermine the Census Bureau’s efforts to increase public trust in the Census,” the senators said. “It would also raise questions about the administration’s intent to comply with the constitutionally mandated requirement to complete an accurate count of the U.S. population.”