Steven Dillingham has resigned as director of the Census Bureau, bringing an early end to a tumultuous tenure that culminated this month in charges that he had allowed politics to override policy at the nation’s premier statistical agency.
Dillingham notified the White House that he would leave the agency Wednesday, when the new Biden administration takes control of the federal government. Under federal law, his term as director had been scheduled to end in December 2021.
Dillingham, who took over the agency in January 2019 after being nominated for the post by President Donald Trump, cast himself as a seasoned statistical expert who was committed to upholding the Census Bureau’s historically nonpartisan work. He had earlier run two other federal statistical agencies and held a range of other federal positions, from the Peace Corps to the Office of Personnel Management.
But while his principal task was to oversee the 2020 census, even that work was often overshadowed by the Trump administration’s yearslong effort to use the bureau’s population tallies to change the rules for reapportioning the House of Representatives and drawing political districts nationwide, largely to the benefit of Republicans.
The White House installed four high-level political appointees in the Census Bureau and ordered the bureau last year to produce a state-by-state count of immigrants in the country illegally so that they could be deducted from population totals used to reapportion House seats later this year.
Attempting to meet that rush order, Dillingham ordered the census count itself curtailed by a month, loosing a flood of lawsuits and raising more questions about the accuracy of a population count already imperiled by the pandemic.
The bureau acknowledged this month that it would be unable to produce the immigrant count sought by the administration before Trump left office. On Friday, a federal court barred the agency from producing any data related to the order before President-elect Joe Biden takes office.
Advocacy groups and Democrats in Congress began demanding Dillingham’s resignation last week after the inspector general at the Commerce Department, which oversees the Census Bureau, revealed that it had opened an inquiry into his management of the agency. Whistleblowers claim that he and other political appointees had pressured career employees to complete a technical report on immigrants in the country illegally before the Trump administration ended despite deep concerns about its accuracy.
He has sought to dispute the charges, first in a response to the inspector general and again Monday in a blog post on the Census Bureau website.
He formally announced his departure in an internal statement to Census Bureau employees, first reported by online publication Talking Points Memo.