Census director quits amid criticism that delayed count was politicized

Bureau missed Dec. 31 deadline to deliver population count

Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham testifies during a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing Feb. 12, 2020. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham testifies during a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing Feb. 12, 2020. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted January 18, 2021 at 3:38pm

Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham announced his resignation Monday amid criticism of his handling of the decennial census and allegations he allowed the count to be politicized.

Dillingham made the announcement in a statement that thanked the bureau’s staff for their work conducting the count amid a global pandemic. For the first time, the agency missed its Dec. 31 statutory deadline to deliver a count of the nation’s population. The delay was caused by disruptions from the global pandemic as well as decisions from the Trump administration.

“None of us could anticipate that as we fully launched the 2020 Census, a global health crisis would upend a schedule and plans which had been carefully constructed over a decade,” Dillingham’s statement said.

Dillingham’s statement said the retirement would become effective Wednesday. A spokesman from the agency said Ron Jarmin, the agency’s deputy director, will then become acting director.

[Northeast, Midwest would lose seats in new Census Bureau estimate]

Civil rights groups and Democrats in Congress called on Dillingham to resign in the past week following reports he prioritized work on identifying immigrants in census records for President Donald Trump over finishing work on the decennial count.

Delayed until March

The agency still has not finished tabulating the results of the count, and the Justice Department has said it will take until at least March to finish.

Dillingham’s departure came after a Commerce Department Office of Inspector General report highlighted whistleblower concerns that he made work on identifying immigrants a “number one priority” in the closing days of the administration.

Dillingham later said he had told staff to stop working on that project in response to the report, but the damage had already been done. Civil rights groups that the agency viewed as key stakeholders in the effort called for him to resign.

Democrats in the House, who had clashed with Dillingham throughout his tenure, joined the chorus.

"Rather than ensure an accurate count, Dr. Dillingham appears to have acceded repeatedly to the Trump Administration’s brazen efforts to politicize the Census," Oversight and Reform Chairwoman Carolyn B. Maloney, D-N.Y., said in a statement calling for Dillingham’s resignation Friday.

Within the last two years, Trump took two executive steps to single out immigrants in the census after a failed attempt to add a citizenship question to the questionnaire: an executive order to compile detailed data on the citizen population of voting age nationwide, and a memorandum to exclude undocumented immigrants from the process of divvying up House seats among the 50 states.

Trump signed the memorandum seeking to exclude undocumented immigrants in July. Shortly after that, the administration dropped its efforts to extend the census count so Trump could still control apportionment calculations regardless of who won the November election.

On Friday, the government officially said, as part of a court proceeding, that it would not try to release any results before President-elect Joe Biden is inaugurated Wednesday at noon.

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