Facing pressure, Census Bureau says it will clarify roles of two political appointees

Announcement comes after Commerce Department’s inspector general demanded the bureau provide details about the pair

Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham has said little about the roles of the two new political appointees since announcing their appointments last month.  (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham has said little about the roles of the two new political appointees since announcing their appointments last month. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted July 9, 2020 at 2:52pm

The Census Bureau has promised to reveal more about the roles of its two new political appointees amid concerns the pair may interfere in how the agency conducts day-to-day operations of its 2020 count, following growing calls for more details from trade groups, its network of partners and even its internal watchdog.

Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham announced last month that the agency’s new deputy director for policy, Nathaniel Cogley, and his adviser, Adam Korzeniewski, would “help the Census Bureau achieve a complete and accurate 2020 Census and study future improvements.” But the agency has said little about their roles since then.

Earlier this week, however, the agency’s watchdog asked the Census Bureau to provide details. The Commerce Department’s inspector general on Tuesday asked for a description of their duties, their ethics disclosure forms and documents about their hiring by July 20.

Census Bureau spokesman Michael Cook said the agency would address Cogley’s and Korzeniewski’s positions in a response to the IG letter.

In a call with reporters Wednesday about ramping up 2020 census operations, the agency’s associate director, Al Fontenot, said the pair were not part of the planning conversations for the “soft launch” of door-knocking operations that will start later this month — or the conversations about upcoming operations.

The Population Association of America, a national group of demographers, said in a letter to Dillingham last week that the recent appointments were “questionable and lacks adequate justification” in the middle of 2020 census operations.

“Further it is not clear either of the appointees have the appropriate credentials or experience for filling these high level position and their stated purpose,” the letter said.

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Those concerns were echoed by statements from the American Economic Association, which said the appointment “raises questions” about the agency’s adherence to professional standards, and the Council of Professional Associations on Federal Statistics, which said the appointments threaten the foundations of trust in census results.

“Indeed, it appears that these appointments are aimed at politicizing the 2020 Census and could do damage to the Bureau’s mission to provide the public with accurate, independent, nonpartisan, and timely information,” the council’s executive director, Paul Schroeder, said in a statement.

Cogley, an assistant professor of political science at Tarleton State University in Texas, has published one academic paper since receiving his doctorate degree in 2012 from Yale University. The 2018 paper, written with two co-authors, designed and conducted a survey of public immigration attitudes in Ivory Coast.

More recently, Cogley has been a frequent contributor to talk radio programs. He also published several op-eds defending President Donald Trump amid the impeachment proceedings earlier this year.

According to the Census Bureau’s biography of him, Korzeniewski started working for the deputy secretary of Commerce in April. He also worked as a lead Census field manager in the New York borough of Queens and is a U.S. Marine Corps veteran. Federal Election Commission records show Korzeniewski worked on several Republican congressional campaigns in the 2020 cycle.

After the appointment of Cogley and Korzeniewski, Republican Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas and Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire — the leaders of the Senate Commerce-Justice-Science Appropriations Subcommittee, which funds the census — sent a letter to Dillingham asking the agency to work closely with them. They also reminded the agency of its statutory duty to keep data confidential and count everyone in the country.

“We expect that data processing will be free from political interference and that the highest standards of integrity and fairness will be upheld. We will be closely watching to ensure this is the case,” the letter said.

In the meantime, House appropriators have advanced their fiscal 2021 Commerce-Justice-Science funding bill that would prohibit the Census Bureau from paying for more than five political appointees.

The Census Bureau has not answered questions about the pair from its partners, including the National Urban League, according to its CEO, Marc Morial. The National Urban League and hundreds of thousands of other organizations nationwide have partnered with the agency, helping raise awareness of the census and encourage participation.

“It’s puzzling because no one has said why they were picked or what their charge is or what they are to do,” Morial said.