Census Bureau director to resign when Biden takes office

Steven Dillingham, director of the Census Bureau, speaks while unveiling the advertising outreach campaign for the 2020 Census, on January 14, 2020 in Washington, DC.

Mark Wilson | Getty Images

The director of the U.S. Census Bureau said Monday that he intends to retire on Wednesday, as President-elect Joe Biden takes office.

Steven Dillingham, a career civil servant whom President Donald Trump appointed to lead the bureau in 2018, faced accusations of politicizing the bureau. His term was set to expire at the end of 2021.

Calls for Dillingham’s resignation mounted after it was revealed on Tuesday that the bureau was rushing to complete a document that would boost Trump’s push to exclude undocumented immigrants from the count used to apportion seats in the House of Representatives.

Trump had ordered the bureau to produce a population count that excluded undocumented immigrants.

A fight over the order made its way to the Supreme Court, which ruled in December that it was too soon to assess the legality of the plan. Trump’s effort came after the court rejected his earlier bid to put a citizenship question on the census.

Commerce Department inspector general Peggy Gustafson in a letter released on Tuesday questioned Dillingham about whether the bureau was rushing to complete the document.

Gustafson wrote that whistleblowers from the bureau had approached her office to say that they had felt pressured to complete the document without “sufficient time to conduct their normal data quality checks.”

Two political appointees, Nathaniel Cogley and Benjamin Overholt, were spearheading the effort, Gustafson wrote. She said both men would be leaving the bureau “in the coming days.”

On Wednesday, Dillingham said he ordered staff working to complete the project to “stand down.” He told Gustafson that even prior to receiving her letter, he had instructed staff that “the matter should be continued in the normal course of business and no one should feel pressured.”

A number of civil rights groups called for Dillingham to resign shortly after Gustafson’s letter was made public.

“After considering Director Dillingham’s efforts to undermine the agency’s core standards of data quality in order to carry out a political agenda, we believe that he can no longer carry out his duties as the leader of our nation’s most prestigious statistical agency,” several organizations, including The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, wrote in a joint letter posted on Wednesday.

In his resignation letter, Dillingham didn’t address the controversy and praised his staff for conducting the once-a-decade survey in the midst of a raging pandemic.

“Many institutions demurred in the face of this pandemic, and it is easy to understand why. But you did not. You met this challenge head on and overcame it,” Dillingham wrote.

“You adapted operations to carry out the mission while following public health and safety protocols. You made great sacrifices to continue our work as you and your loved ones experienced the pandemic. You were resilient and persevered,” he added.

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