Career official assumes Census leadership as key tests loom

John Thompson, director Census Bureau 2013-2017 

A career official will take over for exiting Census Director John Thompson (above) amid preparations for the 2020 population count.

Career officials are taking over leadership of the Census Bureau on a temporary basis, as key tests and procurement decisions loom in the run-up to the 2020 population count.

Longtime Census employees Ron Jarmin and Enrique Lamas will take over as director and deputy director respectively on an interim basis.

The announcement comes as Census faces a lengthy to-do list the back half of 2017, including preparations for the critical 2018 end-to-end test, the dress rehearsal for the decennial count.

The new leadership will take over at a time when Census is facing budget reductions as it prepares to award major IT contracts in the hopes of saving billions.

Trump's fiscal year 2018 budget proposal for Census comes in at $1.524 billion, slightly above Congress's $1.47 billion figure in the recently passed spending package for fiscal year 2017 and well below Obama's fiscal year 2018 request of $1.8 billion.

The Bureau is also experiencing IT cost overruns, possibly to the tune of $1 billion, and plans to release a new lifecycle cost estimate later this summer.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross made the announcement on June 29, one day before the retirement data of director John Thompson.

"Both Mr. Jarmin and Mr. Lamas have had long, distinguished careers at Census, and the Bureau will be well served by their leadership." Ross said in a statement. "The Census Bureau, along with the 2020 Census, are in good hands with these two men at the helm until the Senate confirms new leadership."

In a farewell letter, Thompson said the bureau is in "good hands."

Jarmin has worked at the Bureau since 1992, serving as the Chief of the Center for Economic Studies, the Assistant Director for Research and Methodology and most recently as the Associate Director for Economic Programs, which heads the 2017 Economic Census that provides statistics on American economic performance.

Lamas is a three-plus decade Census veteran, who has served in and headed a variety of divisions, most recently as the Associate Director for Demographic Programs.

The deputy director has been vacant since Lamas's predecessor, Nancy Potok, took over the U.S. Chief Statistician post in January.

In his farewell, Thompson noted some of the accomplishments of his tenure, including creating a high-tech plan for the 2020 census, speeding up IT solutions, integrating data collection and upgrading the Census.gov website.

The process of designating interim leadership took longer than Commerce initially estimated. On May 9, a Commerce spokesperson told FCW via email it would designate an acting director "in the coming days.”

The Census director is a presidentially appointed, senate-confirmed position that runs on fixed five-year terms, which means that while Ross can choose the acting director, naming a permanent one falls to the authority of President Trump. On June 7, the watchdog group Census Project wrote Trump a letter urging a prompt nomination. The group’s co-director Phil Sparks told FCW he did not receive a response.

Shortly after Thompson’s May 9 retirement announcement, former Commerce CIO Steve Cooper told FCW that if finding a permanent director “goes three, four, five months, that's a long delay that will hurt the Census."

About the Author

Chase Gunter is a staff writer covering civilian agencies, workforce issues, health IT, open data and innovation.

Prior to joining FCW, Gunter reported for the C-Ville Weekly in Charlottesville, Va., and served as a college sports beat writer for the South Boston (Va.) News and Record. He started at FCW as an editorial fellow before joining the team full-time as a reporter.

Gunter is a graduate of the University of Virginia, where his emphases were English, history and media studies.

Click here for previous articles by Gunter, or connect with him on Twitter: @WChaseGunter


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