The director of the Census Bureau, John Thompson (pictured above), announced his resignation last week, effective at the end of June. His departure will leave a vacuum of leadership at a critical time in preparation for the 2020 Census.
"Thompson’s departure comes after a rocky week in which he was grilled by legislators at a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing and had to explain why a new electronic system was nearly 50 percent over budget," according to a report in Politico, leaving "the agency without a head at a crucial moment in its 10-year cycle, with 10,000 employees ramping up for a dry-run test of their capacity to run the 2020 census," and potentially lacking the necessary funding increases to pull it off.
Rather than debating blame for his departure (and its timing), as some of the sources in the article attempt, the Insights Association is more keenly concerned about securing his replacement. We are hopeful that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross' experience with and interest in the Census will speed the choice and confirmation of a new director.
"Howard Fienberg, a lobbyist at the Insights Association, a trade group that represents the research industry, said that he wanted a director with experience and skills in managing a large bureaucracy and dealing with logistical nightmares. “My fantasy would be you bring in someone like the person who runs Fed-Ex,” he said, although he admitted that was unlikely to happen."
A decennial headcount is a "massive mobilization, involving the short-term hiring of hundreds of thousands of enumerators, and billions of dollars in additional spending as Census Day approaches," and even "experienced bureaucrats have struggled" in that role.
"You need to be able to run a bureaucracy and make it work at top speed and peak performance at a very tight schedule and be able to liaise with the rest of the government and especially Congress," said Fienberg. "Not an easy position to be in."