Robert Santos, President Biden's nominee for director of the U.S. Census Bureau, is set to testify Thursday at a Senate confirmation hearing.
Coming about three months after the White House announced the nomination, Santos' appearance before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee brings the statistician a step closer to a potential political appointment for the history books.
If confirmed, Santos, who is Latinx, would be the first person of color to become a permanent director of the bureau, which produces the country's most comprehensive public data on race, ethnicity and other demographic characteristics used to redraw voting maps, guide federal funding and enforce civil rights protections. In 1998, James F. Holmes, who is African American, temporarily headed the agency as its acting director.
Currently the American Statistical Association's president and the Urban Institute's chief methodologist, Santos would serve as the bureau's director past the current Biden administration and through the end of 2026 during a key period of preparations for the 2030 census.
The federal government's largest statistical agency found itself without a permanent director in January after the abrupt departure of Steven Dillingham. The Trump administration appointee resigned after whistleblowers filed complaints about Dillingham's attempt to rush out an incomplete data report about noncitizens.
Since then, the bureau has been led by acting Director Ron Jarmin, who has been managing other career civil servants focused on the release of the next major set of 2020 census results.
By Aug. 16, detailed demographic data used for redistricting around the country is expected to be made public after months of delays caused by the coronavirus pandemic and the Trump administration's interference with the census schedule last year. These have forced some state and local governments to push back upcoming primary and general election dates.
A federal lawsuit filed by the state of Alabama over the bureau's privacy protection plans threatened to delay the release of new redistricting data further. But a three-judge court put that legal challenge on hold this month after rejecting a request for an emergency court order that would have blocked the bureau from using a new way of keeping people's information in the data confidential.