This week the Population Association of America and the Association of Population Research Centers, whose members include over 3,000 scientists and over 40 federally-funded organizations, sounded an alarm bell about one of their most sacred cows: the United States Census Bureau. Reports had surfaced saying the White House planned to install as the bureau’s deputy director Thomas Brunell, a political science professor with scant managerial experience who is best known for his testimony as an expert witness on behalf of Republican redistricting plans and a book that argues against competitive electoral districts. News of the appointment, which sources close to the bureau say is imminent, sparked handwringing among statisticians, former bureau directors, and civil rights leaders.
The appointment would “undermine the credibility” of the traditionally nonpartisan bureau, the president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights said in a statement. Brunell “appears to lack the necessary management and statistical agency experience, and may be viewed by many to have a very political perspective,” the president of the American Statistical Association wrote.
Neither Brunell, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, nor the Census Bureau responded to requests for comment.
Brunell earned his degrees at the University of California, Irvine in the 1990s and has taught at the University of Texas in Dallas since 2005, focusing on elections and party politics. He is considered by those with knowledge of the field to be a respected academic who holds unorthodox views.