National Press Club

Former Census Bureau director says more funding is needed for count

July 28, 2017 | By Varun Saxena | vsaxenaster@gmail.com

John Thompson, former director of the U.S. Census Bureau, discusses the upcoming 2020 census and why he resigned his position at a July 25 National Press Club Headliners Newsmaker..

John Thompson, former director of the U.S. Census Bureau, discusses the upcoming 2020 census and why he resigned his position at a July 25 National Press Club Headliners Newsmaker..

Photo/Image: Al Teich

On the heels of his unexpected resignation, former U.S. Census Bureau Director John Thompson called for adequate funding for the decennial count during a July 25 National Press Club Headliners Newsmaker.

Preparations have been underfunded by $200 million so far, and the agency needs to be fully funded soon in order to catch up, he said.

In particular, money is needed for a decentralized marketing campaign to ensure that everyone participates in the survey so that there is not an undercount, he said.

"There are concerns about the government, especially in the immigrant population," he said. "That's why it's going to be so important to do the work with the partnerships and the local organizations to get the word out. That's going to be critically important, and that has to be funded. And it had to start really, really heavily in 2019."

The census numbers are used to distribute federal funds and allocate House seats, but individual information is kept private.

"The Census Bureau doesn't give their data to anyone," he said. "Now having a person from Washington, D.C., come into a community and say that doesn't do much good. But when you get local voices to say that, it works."

The year before the 2020 census will be critical to that messaging effort, as well as other related tasks.

"The 2019 budget is going to be a fairly big request, and it's going to be very, very important that the Congress of the United States fund the 2019 budget request," he said.

Thompson said his June resignation was not driven by partisan concerns, but acknowledged that someone nominated by President Donald Trump would command greater authority than he would as an appointee of President Barack Obama.

"I think the Census Bureau is on track to put in place the systems they need to do the basic count more efficiently than they've done in the past," he said.

The Bureau conducts a variety of other, smaller surveys in addition to the census, such as the American Community Survey.

Thompson in July became the executive director of the Council of Professional Associations on Federal Statistics.