Last week, Robert Santos was confirmed by the Senate to take over the Census Bureau. Santos, who was born in San Antonio, will be the first Latino census director and only the second person of color to oversee the Census.
Santos brings a broad array of statistical expertise to this new position. He is currently the Vice President and Chief Methodologist at the Urban Institute in Washington D.C. When President Biden nominated Santos to the position, he touted that he had over forty years of experience in “survey sampling, survey design and more generally in social science and policy research.”
Ahead of the 2020 count, the Census was under intense scrutiny for a myriad of reasons, many of them self-inflicted from the Trump administration. The problems first began when the Commerce Department, which oversees the constitutionally mandated decennial count, announced there would be a citizenship question on the Census. Ultimately, the Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 ruled against that effort.
Then came the COVID-19 pandemic. The Census Bureau announced a new and revised schedule, with counting going until October 2020 (normally the count stops in July). However, in September 2020, the Census Bureau revealed that they would be stopping the survey at the end of the month, a month ahead of schedule. The Congressional Tri-Caucus, which includes the Congressional Black Caucus, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, and the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, released a joint letter to the Census Bureau blasting that change, which they warned would undercount communities of color.
Robert Santos, in his capacity as the president-elect of the American Statistical Association, also criticized that move from the Census Bureau in 2020. “There is no scientific rationale to curtail the data-collection period for this constitutionally mandated activity, and the premature cessation of census enumeration will produce flawed counts,” he wrote in a letter to members of Congress.
When the Census did unveil its findings from 2020, Texas was awarded two congressional seats. However, many population experts thought Texas should have been allocated a third congressional seat.
In fact, several Texas Democrats in the House were warning about the impact from a possible undercount. After the Census Bureau announced the survey would end a month early, 54 state representatives signed a letter to Governor Abbott urging him to create a Complete Count Committee to ensure an accurate population assessment of Texas. Abbott did not allocate any resources towards the Census.
Now, a new report from the Urban Institute does show that Texas likely did suffer a population undercount from the 2020 Census. According to the report, across the nation Black and Latino communities were undercounted “at a rate of more than 2.45 and 2.17 percent, respectively.” The Urban Institute’s report also shows that because of an undercount, Texas likely missed out on over $240 million in federal funding.
Though Texas will be dealing with the ramifications of the 2020 Census for years, Santos is pledging to take the bureau in a forward direction and away from the chaos that marked the Trump administration. At his confirmation hearing in July, Santos appeared committed to his roots as a statistician. “Although this is a political appointment, I am no politician,” he told Senators at his confirmation hearing. “I’m a scientist, executive-level manager, a researcher and a longtime supporter of the Census Bureau.”
Santos will likely not be sworn in until January. His term will last until 2026. The Acting Director of the Census Bureau is Ron Jarmin, who took over when the Trump-appointed Director Stephen Dillingham abruptly left early this year after a whistleblower complaint regarding the attempts to add a citizenship question to the census was made public.
After his confirmation, Santos received congratulations from several Texan members of Congress, including Rep. Lloyd Doggett and Rep. Sylvia Garcia. The Mayor of San Antonio, Ron Nirenberg, also offered his congratulations to a native of the city.
Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images