The census, one of the most important activities our government undertakes, is under threat by uncertain funding and a leadership vacuum at a crucial moment. As former directors of the U.S. Census Bureau, serving in both Republican and Democratic administrations, we urge President Trump to act swiftly and the Senate to cooperate in naming a new director as the 2020 Census nears. The immediate task is to nominate someone who can provide stability through the final years of the decade, explain the importance of the agency’s mission compellingly, address Congress’s fiscal concerns and be ready for full immersion in the important tasks at hand.
Equally important is a serious increase in funding for next year, ramping up further in 2019. This is a critical period in which to begin operations, including well-researched advertising messages, staffing and training an army of temporary workers, opening field offices and testing new technology. The Census Bureau cannot do any of this at the last minute, just as the Defense Department cannot prepare for military action when a threat is imminent.
The decennial census — the once- a-decade effort to count every person living in the United States — is an enormous and complex task. It is specifically required by the U.S. Constitution because it is essential to our representative government. Census data will be used to determine how many U.S. representatives each state gets and to draw voting districts for the House, state legislatures, city councils and school boards.