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Census Bureau riles Democrats with pair of new political appointees

The unexpected additions raised concerns over how political the 2020 census may become

House Oversight and Reform Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney says the appointments politicize the census.
House Oversight and Reform Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney says the appointments politicize the census. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call))

The Trump administration added two political appointees to the Census Bureau in newly created positions Tuesday, increasing concerns among census experts and Democrats that the largely apolitical data agency may be tipping to Republican advantage.

The Census Bureau announced that Nathaniel Cogley, an assistant professor of political science at Tarleton State University in Texas, would serve as the agency’s deputy director for policy. It said Adam Korzeniewski would work as an adviser.

Former Census Bureau Director Kenneth Prewitt said the unexpected additions “quite seriously disturbed” him. He said it raised concerns over how the agency may conduct the remainder of the 2020 census, which already is dealing with unprecedented schedule disruptions because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“This is not only unprecedented, but it is a potential disaster if they try and affect what the Census Bureau is trying to implement in the next two or three months,” he said.

Prewitt pointed out that there now are only a handful of political appointees at the Census Bureau, and Tuesday’s additions basically doubles them.

House Oversight and Reform Chairwoman Carolyn B. Maloney blasted the appointments as “yet another unprecedented attempt” by the administration to “politicize” the 2020 census.  

“The move to increase the presence of starkly partisan allies in the Census Bureau comes after the Supreme Court struck down the Administration’s previous attempt to add an unlawful citizenship question to the 2020 Census,” the New York Democrat said in a statement Tuesday.

Democrats and advocacy groups have raised concerns that past administration efforts were intended to politicize census results, particularly the yearlong but ultimately unsuccessful effort to add a citizenship question to the questionnaire. 

Cogley has published one academic paper since receiving his doctorate degree in 2012 from Yale University, a 2018 paper in which he and two co-authors designed and conducted a survey of public immigration attitudes in the Ivory Coast.

More recently, Cogley has been a frequent contributor to talk radio programs. He also published several op-eds defending Trump amid the impeachment proceedings earlier this year.

A Census Bureau spokesman did not respond to a request Tuesday to provide more information about Korzeniewski’s background or work aside from the agency’s announcement stating he “has exemplary military and public service experience, including prior Census Bureau fieldwork.”

“As we resume operations delayed by the COVID19 pandemic, the support of Dr. Cogley and Mr. Korzeniewski will help the Census Bureau achieve a complete and accurate 2020 Census and study future improvements,” the agency announcement said.

Federal Election Commission records list an Adam Korzeniewski as briefly on the staff of Larry A. Wilske, who ran for California’s 50th District this cycle before withdrawing ahead of the primary. FEC records also list the congressional campaign of Joey Saladino, a Republican candidate in New York’s 11th District, paying an Adam Korzeniewski for consulting. Saladino, a YouTube personality, dropped out in December.

Prewitt, who served as director for the 2000 census, said the two appointments announced Tuesday were not candidates he would have expected to help keep the census on track. He said any interference from the administration at this point could tip census results toward one party instead of maintaining it as a neutral process.

“The taking of the census is supposed to be apolitical. It is scientific; the use of the numbers is political, it’s power and money,” Prewitt said. “To sort of make the collection of the data itself political, it erodes public trust, and this is already a census that is fighting uphill to be successful.”

Much of the public has cited mistrust of the government as a reason for reluctance to participate in the census, according to pre-census research conducted by the Census Bureau and other organizations.

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