Not Just Comey: Another Important Official Just Left the Trump Administration

May 10th 2017

The U.S. government lost an important official this week — no, not him — and it could have long-term ramifications for the U.S. Congress.

John H. Thompson, director of the U.S. Census Bureau, abruptly resigned on Wednesday. Thompson's departure is believed to be the result of insufficient resources being allocated to the bureau, charged with counting the number of U.S. citizens — a count that determines how many representatives each of the 50 states gets to send to Washington, DC.

It's up to President Donald Trump to nominate a new director to take Thompson's place — another position that needs to be filled after a busy week that saw FBI Director James Comey fired on Tuesday.

Thompson has been with the Census Bureau for 27 years and has served as the director since 2013. His term was set to expire in December.

"As I pursue opportunities in the private sector," Thompson said in a statement, "please be assured that I will continue to be supportive of the administration's priority to have a complete and accurate 2020 Census."

Science Magazine put the danger to the bureau in stark terms.

His departure will create what a 2011 law was expressly designed to avoid—a leadership vacuum during a crucial time in the 10-year life cycle of the census, the nation’s largest civilian undertaking. 

"This is alarming," wrote Slate's Jacob Weissmann. "A mishandled census could undercount poor and minority populations, putting some states and many cities at a demographic disadvantage.

The speculation is that Thompson's departure has to do with money. The 2020 census will cost approximately $12.5 billion, about $200 million more than it did in 2010, partly due to cost overruns from a new computer system.

The census is used to determine congressional district lines for the next election. The process, known as "redistricting," can give power and influence to members of the House.

"In states like Ohio, Michigan and North Carolina, Republicans were able to shape congressional maps to pack as many Democratic voters as possible into the fewest House districts," PBS reported in 2014. "The practice is called gerrymandering, and it left fertile ground elsewhere in each state to spread Republican voters among more districts, increasing the GOP’s chances of winning more seats."

Redistricting is how Republicans were able to get about 55 percent of the congressional seats up for grabs in 2016 despite obtaining less than 50 percent of the popular vote.

With a new director at the Census Bureau, an opportunity for Republicans to consolidate (or at least hold on to) power — despite their unpopularity— is knocking.

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