U.S. Census Bureau Director Steve Dillingham resigned Monday amid allegations he supported Republican calls to hand data to President Donald Trump before he leaves office.
Dillingham has been under scrutiny since a January 12 letter from Department of Commerce Inspector General Peggy E. Gustafson requesting explanation of his behavior. The correspondence exposed whistleblower allegations that some Census Bureau political appointees were pushing for the early release of data on undocumented immigrants in order to please the president.
First results are scheduled to be released March 6 at the earliest, but political appointees were allegedly pushing for a January 15 release date.
The high-pressure approach raised concerns among some in the bureau that the early release of data could jeopardize the accuracy of the information. One whistleblower indicated that if released in a rush, the data would be "statistically indefensible" and could be "misinterpreted, misused, or otherwise tarnish the Bureau's reputation."
In a response statement to the letter, Dillingham wrote that he acted with due diligence.
“The reported whistleblower concerns appear to be misunderstandings regarding the planned process for the review and potential postings of data, and the agreed-upon need to apply data quality standards,” the director said.
Undocumented immigrants have long been a point of interest for the Trump administration regarding census data. In 2018, the White House pushed to include a citizenship question in the questionnaire, a request that was later blocked by the U.S. Supreme Court. In an effort to accelerate data processing amid the coronavirus pandemic, the government in 2020 suggested that undocumented immigrants not be counted, a decision that was also dismissed.
Census data is used to determine the distribution of about $1.5 trillion in federal funds every year. It also helps define congressional allocation for the next decade.
Some fear that not counting undocumented immigrants could benefit Republicans. Democratic Rep. Carolyn Maloney of New York accused Dillingham of siding with the president.
“Rather than ensure an accurate count, Dr. Dillingham appears to have acceded repeatedly to the Trump Administration’s brazen efforts to politicize the Census,” Maloney, who chairs the House Oversight and Reform Committee, said in a statement. “He has failed to be open and transparent with Congress, and recent events indicate he has lost the confidence of Census Bureau staff.”
Dillingham had been in charge of the Census Bureau since January 2019. President-elect Joe Biden is yet to announce his pick to head the bureau, as well as other political appointees within the agency.