The Department of Commerce announced on Tuesday that Census Bureau Director John H. Thompson will step down at the end of June, creating the possibility of a leadership void at the bureau in the run-up to undertaking the 2020 Census.
In a statement, Thompson, who will retire on June 30, said he plans to “pursue opportunities in the private sector.” Thompson was sworn in as census director in 2013, and had reportedly been expected to remain in the role through the end of 2017.
The results of the United States census, which takes place every decade, are crucial for determining the allocation of government resources for schools, law enforcement, and housing. Information collected by the census also has a direct bearing on how American citizens are represented in federal government since the population count serves as the basis for how congressional districts are carved out.
News of the director’s impending departure arrives at a time when census experts have raised questions over whether the bureau’s funding levels will be adequate to carry out the task of completing the upcoming census.
Michael Li, a senior counsel for the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program, said it’s crucial that “the bureau be fully staffed and fully funded so it can do the critical testing to make sure it gets everything right.” Li added: “The 2020 Census is going to be unlike any in U.S. history—with a lot of data collection proposed to be online for the first time and things like a potentially big re-working of how the Bureau collects information about race and ethnicity. That creates a lot of risk of an undercount.”