WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Census Bureau’s embattled director on Monday announced he is resigning nearly a year ahead of schedule and will retire on Wednesday, the day Democratic President-elect Joe Biden is inaugurated, according to a letter on the bureau’s website.
Steven Dillingham’s resignation follows a Jan. 12 memo from the Commerce Department’s Office of Inspector General raising questions about whether he was pushing bureau employees to finalize a technical report on the number of undocumented immigrants in the United States before Biden took office.
After the inspector general memo was made public, Dillingham said in a letter he directed “those involved should ‘stand down’ and discontinue their data reviews.”
Outgoing Republican President Donald Trump repeatedly sought to exclude undocumented immigrants from the population totals used to allocate congressional districts to states.
In June 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked Trump’s contentious citizenship question planned for the 2020 census because officials gave a rationale the court characterized as “contrived.”
Trump then issued an executive order directing the Census Bureau to determine the number of undocumented immigrants through other means.
New York state and the American Civil Liberties Union argued Trump’s plan would dilute the political clout of states with larger numbers of such immigrants, including heavily Democratic California, by undercounting state populations and depriving them of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives to the benefit of his fellow Republicans.
The Constitution requires apportionment of House seats to be based upon the “whole number of persons in each state.” Until the Trump administration, the U.S. government’s practice was to count all people regardless of their citizenship or immigration status.
Democratic Senator Brian Schatz urged Biden to prioritize “fixing the 2020 Census and preventing future politicization.” He called on Biden to sign legislation extending deadlines for data delivery and to establish a nonpartisan commission “to ensure that the data is full, fair, and accurate.”
On Friday, House Oversight Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney had called on Dillingham to resign, saying he “appears to have acceded repeatedly to the Trump Administration’s brazen efforts to politicize the Census.”
The census count’s accuracy is critical, as the survey also guides the federal government in allocating $1.5 trillion a year in aid in addition to determining U.S. House seats.
The U.S. Census Bureau last month said it would miss a year-end deadline to produce the population count.
Dillingham’s resignation comes just days ahead of Biden’s inauguration on Wednesday and follows an exodus of Trump administration aides after the deadly Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol by supporters of the outgoing president.
“The world has never needed complete and accurate data more than it does now,” said Dillingham’s farewell message.
Dillingham on Monday called on Congress to begin data collection a year earlier for the 2030 census.
(Reporting by Daphne Psaledakis, David Shepardson and Doina Chiacu; editing by Jonathan Oatis)