Accessibility links

Breaking News

US Census Director Abruptly Quits People-counting Agency

FILE - Copies of the 2010 Census forms are seen during a news conference in Phoenix, Arizona, March 15, 2010.
FILE - Copies of the 2010 Census forms are seen during a news conference in Phoenix, Arizona, March 15, 2010.

The director of the people-counting U.S. Census Bureau is leaving his job just as the agency steps up its once-a-decade tally, the Commerce Department said Tuesday.

Census Bureau Director John H. Thompson was expected to leave the agency at the end of the year but instead will depart June 30, according to a government statement. Thompson said he is pursuing “opportunities in the private sector.”

“Your experience will be greatly missed,” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said in the same statement.

Thompson testified to a House committee last week that the 2020 Census was on track. Members of the panel expressed concern about the escalating costs and overruns of the decennial accounting exercise mandated by the Constitution. The 2010 Census was the costliest U.S. Census in history, at about $12.3 billion, Robert Goldenkoff, strategic issues director for the Government Accountability Office. Thompson, who was confirmed to his post in 2013, told the same panel that the cost of the 2020 Census will cost about $12.5 billion.

Some of the increased projection is the result of modernizing the counting process, Goldenkoff said.

Asked whether Secretary Wilbur Ross or Trump himself had asked Thompson to step down, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said by email: “He's simply retiring from public service. He spent 30 years in public service and 10 in the private sector.”

The Census, conducted every 10 years since 1790, is critical to determining how to run the country as it grows and diversifies. Beyond government spending, the private sector also uses demographic information collected in the enumeration.

The U.S. recently surpassed 325 million people. By 2044, whites are expected to become a minority. In 2020, the questionnaire is expected to include a new classification for Americans who are of Middle Eastern descent.

The director is nominated by the president for a five-year term and confirmed by the Senate.