President Biden, remaining committed to his pledge to choose diverse candidates for consequential posts in his administration, announced Tuesday his intention to nominate Robert Santos for Director of the Census Bureau at the Department of Commerce, which would make Santos the first person of color to serve in that role, should he be confirmed by the Senate.
Born and raised in San Antonio, Texas, Santos is the President of the American Statistical Association and serves as Vice President and Chief Methodologist at the Urban Institute, Washington, D.C.
Santos would fill the term left vacant by Steven Dillingham, who was appointed by former President Trump but resigned in January following allegations he played a role in a partisan effort to confer information on undocumented immigrants to Trump.
Other than a brief stint by James Holmes, a Black man, who served as acting director for nine months in 1998, every Census Bureau director in the agency’s history has been white.
The new head of the Census Bureau will be tasked with finalizing the results of the 2020 census—which will be used to reapportion political districts nationwide—and has become a highly contentious topic. In early 2019, the Trump administration said it wanted to add a question to the 2020 census about citizenship to enforce the Voting Rights Act. In June of that year, the Supreme Court called that rationale “contrived.” Trump ultimately decided to issue an executive order in July 2019 instructing the Census Bureau to “generate an estimate of the aggregate number of aliens unlawfully present in each State.” However, federal judges ultimately struck down Trump’s efforts to exclude undocumented immigrants from the tally impacting Congressional apportionment. In January 2021, Census Bureau whistleblowers reportedly alleged some Republican-appointed administrators were “pressuring” bureau employees to deliver data related to the count of undocumented immigrants to the former president. In a resignation letter posted to the bureau website, Dillingham wrote the “whistleblower concerns appear to be misunderstandings regarding the planned process for the review and potential postings of data.”
“If confirmed, I will support the Bureau and its staff in its mission to provide quality population and economic data to the nation,” Santos told NPR. “The principles of transparency, scientific independence, and integrity will be key in allowing the Census Bureau to thrive and innovate over the coming decade.”