Biden Chooses Stats Expert to Lead Census Bureau

Robert Santos, who is Hispanic, would be the first person of color to run the federal government’s top statistical agency.

A briefcase of a census taker is seen as she knocks on the door of a residence in Winter Park, Fla., last August. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

WASHINGTON (CN) — President Joe Biden intends to nominate one of America’s leading statisticians, Robert Santos, as director of the U.S. Census Bureau, the White House announced on Tuesday.

Santos currently serves as the president of the American Statistical Association and as vice president and chief methodologist at the Urban Institute in Washington.

The veteran statistician, who is a third-generation native Mexican American, would be the first person of color to permanently lead the Census Bureau if he is confirmed by the Senate following Biden’s official nomination.

The Census Bureau has been headed only by white directors except for James Holmes, a Black man who briefly led the agency as acting director in 1998. 

A former president of the American Association for Public Opinion Research, Santos has more than 40 years of experience in survey sampling, survey design and social science and policy research, according to a statement from the White House. He is being tapped to lead the Commerce Department agency tasked with counting residents every decade to determine the allocation of federal funds and political representation. 

Santos would complete the remainder of a term left vacant by former Census Director Steven Dillingham, which runs out at the end of this year. 

Appointed by former President Donald Trump, Dillingham stepped down in January following reports from several whistleblowers to the Commerce Department’s Inspector General. They told the department’s watchdog that employees were pressured to rush data gathering and publication on the country’s immigrant population, including both documented and undocumented immigrants. 

“One senior Bureau employee went as far to say that this work is statistically indefensible,” Inspector General Peggy E. Gustafson wrote in a notice to Dillingham in January.

The agency’s reputation was dented under the last administration’s leadership when Trump called for undocumented immigrants to be left out of the 2020 tally results altogether. After taking office earlier this year, Biden ordered that the count of undocumented immigrants be included in the publication. 

The agency is now facing legal challenges over delayed census results.

Santos, who was born and raised in Texas, could be reappointed after finishing out this year’s term.

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