The Census, conducted every 10 years by constitutional mandate, is one of those incredible important tasks that most people probably find rather dull. That’s a shame because getting this right has an enormous impact on everything from federal spending to representation in Congress.
With that in mind, it was disappointing when Census Bureau Director John Thompson, in the midst of a funding fight, decided to resign unexpectedly in May. Making matters worse, we’re just now getting a look at the replacement Donald Trump apparently has in mind. Politico reports:
The Trump administration is leaning toward naming Thomas Brunell, a Texas professor with no government experience, to the top operational job at the U.S. Census Bureau, according to two people who have been briefed on the bureau’s plans.
Brunell, a political science professor, has testified more than half a dozen times on behalf of Republican efforts to redraw congressional districts, and is the author of a 2008 book titled “Redistricting and Representation: Why Competitive Elections Are Bad for America.”
Some Trump personal choices are alarming, some are disheartening, and some belong in the you-have-got-to-be-kidding me category.
As Slate explained earlier this year, “The decennial census is critical to ensuring that Americans are fairly represented in Washington, since it’s used as the basis for congressional redistricting. A mishandled census could undercount poor and minority populations, putting some states and many cities at a demographic disadvantage.”
It’s against this backdrop that Trump is eyeing someone who has not only played a direct role in helping Republican gerrymandering efforts, but who quite literally wrote a book criticizing competitive elections.
What’s more, as Politico’s report added, “The pick would break with the long-standing precedent of choosing a nonpolitical government official as deputy director of the U.S. Census Bureau. The job has typically been held by a career civil servant with a background in statistics.”
And before you start wondering about whether enough senators can be swayed to block Brunell, that’s not how this process will work: Trump simply gets to pick the next Census Bureau director. It’s a position in the Commerce Department – it’s not a Senate-confirmed job.
Making matters considerably worse, the Census Bureau is already short on funds – a key economic survey was postponed last month because the agency couldn’t afford to complete it – and facing the very real possibility that it won’t be prepared in time for the 2020 count.
Congressional Republicans, meanwhile, want the next census to be done for the same amount of money as the 2010 census, despite population growth and increased costs.
If you’re thinking this sounds like an important process that isn’t going to work out well, you’re not alone. Terri Ann Lowenthal, the former co-director of the Census Project, an organization that tracks the census, said in April, “We could be headed for a train wreck if the Census Bureau doesn’t get the resources it needs.”