Trump to Name Texas Professor With No Experience to Critical Government Post

The Trump administration is leaning toward naming Thomas Brunell, a Texas professor with no government experience, to the top operational job at the U.S. Census Bureau, according to two people who have been briefed on the bureau’s plans.

Brunell, a political science professor, has testified more than half a dozen times on behalf of Republican efforts to redraw congressional districts, and is the author of a 2008 book titled “Redistricting and Representation: Why Competitive Elections Are Bad for America.”

The choice would mark the administration’s first major effort to shape the 2020 census, the nationwide count that determines which states lose and gain electoral votes and seats in the House of Representatives.

The fate of the census under President Donald Trump has been closely watched by voting-rights advocates worried that the administration — which has already made unsupported claims about voter fraud — might nudge it in directions that over- or undercount some Americans. Subtle bureaucratic choices in the wording and administration of the census can have huge consequences for who is counted, and how it shifts American voting districts.

The pick would break with the long-standing precedent of choosing a nonpolitical government official as deputy director of the U.S. Census Bureau. The job has typically been held by a career civil servant with a background in statistics. It does not require Senate confirmation, so Congress would have no power to block the hire.

“If true, it signals an effort by the administration to politicize the census,” said Terri Ann Lowenthal, former co-director of the Census Project, an organization that tracks the census. “It’s very troubling.”

Brunell was under consideration over the summer for the Senate-confirmable job of census director, but the administration declined to nominate him after receiving pushback from Capitol Hill, according to two people who track the census closely.