Scope of the Position:

The Director of the Census Bureau is responsible for guiding the Bureau as it prepares for the upcoming Census. The 2020 Census will include design changes in four key areas:

    * New methodologies to conduct address canvasing
    * Innovative ways of optimizing self-response
    * Use of administrative records to reduce the nonresponse follow-up workload
    * Use of technology to replace tasks traditionally conducted by humans during field operations

In addition to directing the decennial Census and its advancements, the Director oversees the implementation of over 100 other surveys and censuses across the nation. These efforts contribute to crucial statistics like the national unemployment rate.

The U.S Census Bureau currently has a workforce of nearly 4,300 individuals and a FY 2016 estimated budget of approximately $1.5 billion.

Illustrative Management Challenges:

Transitioning to Online Format

In light of the rapidly approaching 2020 Census, many have voiced their concerns over challenges regarding the Census' new online format. A recent report states that the format "is vulnerable to fraud by pranksters, anti-government protesters, phishers seeking personal data, and even manipulators of House of Representatives reapportionment."1 Transitioning to a chiefly internet-based survey will pose an enormous challenge for the Director.

Information and Privacy

Another challenge facing the Director will be the Bureau's increasingly tense balance between data gathering and privacy. The issue of privacy is now central to a dispute between congressional Republicans and the Obama administration.2 With mandatory reporting required of all Americans, many have questioned the nature of Census questions and whether they infringe on privacy. Some have even equated certain Census questions to government spying in the name of national security. In response to these concerns, the Bureau has engaged in efforts to increase transparency by publishing documents explaining the rationale behind each question. These efforts will continue as 2020 approaches.

Cost Estimation

Cost analysis and the difficulties in gaining an accurate estimate will continue to challenge the Director. According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the Bureau's "October 2015 cost estimate for the 2020 Census does not fully reflect characteristics of a high-quality estimate and cannot be considered reliable."3 However, this challenge is not new. The 2010 Census cost twice as much as its 2000 counterpart.2 Managing the costs of an increasingly evolving census will continue to remain a challenge.


      12020 Census Called Vulnerable to Online Fraud;; December 14, 2015.
      2Republicans Try to Reign in the Census Bureau;; June 15, 2015.
      32020 Census: Census Bureau Needs to Improve Its Life-Cycle Cost Estimating Process;; June 30, 2016.

U.S. Census Directors:

Most recent Directors of the Census Bureau came from long and distinguished careers within the Bureau itself; many served for over 20 years before assuming the role of Director. Other past Directors have typically held a background in research or statistics in the academic arena. 

Current Incumbent:

John H. Thompson (2013-present): In 2013, Thompson returned to Washington, D.C., to be appointed as Director after an 11-year hiatus from the Bureau. He had left the Bureau in 2002 to join the National Opinion Research Center as the President and Chief Executive Officer. From 1975 to 2002, Thompson worked in various capacities throughout the Bureau, including in the Statistical Support Division and the Statistical Methods Division. Thompson served as an Associate Director, managing all aspects of the 2000 Census.

Previous Deputy Secretaries:

Robert M. Groves (2009-2012): Groves currently is the Provost for Georgetown University. Prior to his tenure as Director of the Census, he worked as the Associate Director for Statistical Design, Methodology, and Standards for the Bureau. Groves also worked as a research professor at the University of Michigan and has served as Director of the school's Survey Research Center. He previously worked at the University of Maryland with the Joint Program in Survey Methodology. Groves holds a master's degree in statistics and sociology.

Steve H. Murdock (2008-2009): Murdock currently serves as the Allyn R. and Gladys M. Cline Professor of Sociology at Rice University. In 2001, Murdock was appointed State Demographer of Texas and he later joined the University of Texas at San Antonio as the Lutcher Brown Distinguished Chair in Demography and Organizational Studies and the Director of the Institute for Demographic and Socioeconomic Research. He previously was a Regents Professor and Head of the Department of Rural Sociology at Texas A&M University. He holds a BA, MA, and PhD in sociology.

Charles Louis Kincannon (2002-2008): Kincannon joined the Bureau as a statistician in 1963, and worked with the agency for much of his career. He held various positions with the Bureau over the years, including Chief Operating Officer and Deputy Director. Kincannon also worked as the Chief Statistician of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and as Chief of the Program Review Staff in the Department of Commerce's Social and Economic Statistics Administration. He also worked for a time with the Office of Management and Budget. Kincannon completed postgraduate studies in statistics and economics.

Kenneth Prewitt (1998-2001): Prewitt currently holds a position as the Carnegie Professor of Public Affairs in the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University. He has taught political science worldwide, including at schools such as Stanford University, Washington University, and the University of Nairobi. In addition to his time with the U.S. Census Bureau, Prewitt has served as Director of the National Opinion Research Center, Senior Vice President of the Rockefeller Center, and President of the Social Science Research Council. He holds a BA in history and government and an MA and PhD in political science.

Martha Farnsworth Riche (1994-1998): Riche currently serves as a principal in her research and consulting firm and as an associate research professor at the University of Maryland. Prior to her time as Director, Riche served as the Director of Policy Studies for the Population Reference Bureau. She was a founding editor of American Demographics magazine. Riche started her career as an economist for the Bureau of Labor Statistics. She received her MA in economics from the University of Michigan and a PhD in literature and linguistics from Georgetown University.

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