Former Census Director Tapped to Head COPAFS


John Thompson
John Thompson

The most recent director of the U.S. Census Bureau has been named the head of the Council of Professional Associations on Federal Statistics. John H. Thompson will take over from Katherine “Kitty” Smith Evans at COPAFS on July 24.

The council, known as COPAFS, is an umbrella organization for associations that rely on high-quality data from federal statistical agencies. It advocates for proper funding and standards for those federal agencies and serves as liaison between its member groups and the federal ones. COPAFS was founded in 1980.

Thompson made headlines in May when he announced his resignation from the Census effective June 30. His resignation was seen as abrupt since it came in the middle of a year-long extension in the director’s role and because the Census is in the midst of the colossal ramp-up needed for the 2020 Census.

His resignation announcement came amid a growing chorus of concerns that the Census Bureau was not being funded well enough to hold a successful – and constitutionally mandated – decennial count. The resignation also came a few days after a sticky day in front of the Commerce, Justice and Science subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee in which the committee chair seemed greatly concerned about the bureau’s IT system and its ability to handle the 2020 count. And a key Census activity, the annual American Community Survey, has been in the crosshairs of some Republicans.

While the political press connected the dots between those concerns and his resignation, Thompson to date has not. Calling his time as director the “rewarding capstone” to a federal career in a statement from the Commerce Department, he said he planned to “pursue opportunities in the private sector,” adding, “please be assured that I will continue to be supportive of the Administration’s priority to have a complete and accurate 2020 Census.”

Thompson had headed the Census since 2013. Before that he spent 11 years, the last five as head, of NORC, the independent research organization at the University of Chicago formerly known as National Opinion Research Center. Before that, Thompson had served at Census from 1975 until 2002, a period which culminated in his position as the associate director with responsibility for all aspects of the 2000 Census. He received the Department of Commerce Gold Medal for his efforts on behalf of the 2000 Census.

He is an elected fellow of the American Statistical Association and from 2011 through 2013, Thompson served as a member of the Committee on National Statistics (CNSTAT) at the National Academy of Sciences. He participated in CNSTAT’s panel on the design of the 2010 Census Program of Evaluations and Experiments, and its panel to review the 2010 Census.

Thompson holds a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in mathematics from Virginia Tech, and was recently inducted into the university’s College of Science Hall of Distinction.

“COPAFS will benefit immeasurably from the expertise and experience that John brings to our organization,” said Linda Jacobsen, vice president of domestic programs at the Population Research Bureau and chair of COPAFS board. “Under his leadership, we are confident that COPAFS will advance its important work advocating for the Federal statistical system and the essential data it produces.”

Smith Evans has led COPAFS since October 2012. She came to the job after having been administrator of the USDA’s Economic Research Service, and before that was a key player in non-governmental organizations focused on agricultural and farmland policy.

No permanent replacement for Thompson at Census has been proposed by the Trump administration, which has been unusually slow to fill federal vacancies. Ron Jarmin, the associate director for economic programs, will take over Thompson’s duties while Enrique Lamas, associate director for demographic programs, will do the same for the also-vacant deputy director’s role.


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