Empty Government, Part 3

A series of posts on the positions yet to be filled in the Trump Administration. No president has left this many positions vacant for this long. National news outlets are reporting on the number and names of these positions, but without context about the jobs they are supposed to do, those counts do not illustrate the serious consequences invited by an administration so behind in hiring.

The Trump administration has yet to nominate someone to replace the Director of the Census Bureau, who decided to quit early after a few months in the Trump administration.

The Census Bureau does not get the average person excited. But the importance of the decennial census cannot be overstated. Unlike many of the other positions left vacant in the Trump administration, the policy carried out by this official has dramatic ripple effects.

If the Bureau gets the count wrong, every government program that spends based on population estimates is subject to error. Bad leadership can lead to inaccuracies in the Bureau’s many valuable surveys, which are used to produce cost estimates for proposed and enacted legislation. These data these not just used by the federal government – state governments rely on it for their programs. One example is the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which insures 5.6 million kids nationwide as of March 2017. Inaccuracies lead to underfunding or waste. Moreover, there are scores of non-profit researchers and businesses that use census data.

More obviously, a bad count can skew political representation, since seats in the House of Representatives (and by extension, electoral college “votes”) are allocated by population. The error would have to be extreme to influence the state counts. But, even marginal error can result in overly large or small districts — some people will have to share their representatives with more (or fewer) neighbors.

The Census Bureau will soon be without a leader. President Trump has had ample time to propose a replacement. He has not. It is unlikely that this will change, since the Trump administration’s proposed budget underfunds the bureau at a critical time in preparation for 2020.


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