Census Bureau director stepping down amid watchdog concerns

Census Bureau Director John Thompson will step down from his role at the end of June after serving nearly four years on the job.

The bureau’s next leader will take over the operations of the 2020 Census, which has already received considerable budget scrutiny from government watchdogs.

“My tenure at the Census Bureau has been a richly rewarding capstone to my federal career,” Thompson said in a statement announcing his departure. “As I pursue opportunities in the private sector, please be assured that I will continue to be supportive of the administration’s priority to have a complete and accurate 2020 Census.”

At $13 billion, the 2010 Census cost nearly $100 per household, making it the most expensive population count in the bureau’s history. However, officials have been looking at adapting off-the-shelf commercial technology for the next decennial count in order to curb some of its costs.

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While the Census Bureau is not behind schedule on its preparations for the 2020 count yet, the Government Accountability Office is concerned the agency will run into delays, and included the 2020 count on its High-Risk List, which puts federal programs susceptible to waste, fraud, abuse or mismanagement on notice.

During a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing on May 3, GAO’s Director of Strategic Issues Robert Goldenkoff told lawmakers that his agency doesn’t have enough recent information to accurately determine whether the Census is going over costs.

Thompson told the subcommittee that the current estimate for the 2020 Census is $12.5 billion, and pledged that the bureau would work with GAO to improve its documentation.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who worked as a part-time enumerator for the Census Bureau when he was an undergraduate college student, thanked Thompson for his leadership experience.

“Thank you to Director Thompson for your three decades of public service,” Ross said. “A complete and accurate Census is an important and monumental task, and your experience will be greatly missed.”

Thompson worked at the Census Bureau from 1975 to 2002, and was the associate director in charge of the 2000 Census. He briefly left government to work at the University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center before rejoining the Census Bureau as its director in 2013.

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