Robert Santos Named First Latino Director of Census Bureau

Nov 8, 2021
3:44 PM

Census Bureau Director nominee Robert Santos is sworn in to testify before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Thursday, July 15, 2021, on Capitol Hill in Washington. President Joe Biden’s nominee to lead the U.S. Census Bureau told a Senate committee says that he would bring transparency and independence to the nation’s largest statistical agency, which was challenged by a pandemic, natural disasters and attempts at political interference during the execution of the 2020 census. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

On Thursday the Senate confirmed Robert Santos as the new director of the U.S. Census Bureau, making him the first Latino head of the Bureau in its 119-year history as a federal agency.

“I understand the importance of data quality and the Census Bureau’s role in providing data that nurtures our democracy, informs our people and promotes our great economy,” Santos told senators during his confirmation hearing in July.

In a letter to the Senate last year, Santos said that the last-minute schedule changes made by former President Trump, which cut short the census period during a global pandemic, had “no scientific rationale.”

Santos, a third-generation Mexican American from San Antonio, Texas, is a career statistician, having been the vice president and chief methodologist at the Urban Institute, a D.C.-based think tank focused on economic and social policy research.

Santos is the first person of color to be named a permanent director of the Bureau and only the second ever to lead the agency since James F. Holmes, an African American, served as acting director in 1998.

“I have a passion for policy research and helping society to become more informed about public issues,” reads a statement from Santos on the Urban Institute website. “It is incredibly rewarding to apply statistical principles and tools to studies of pragmatic, real-world problems and to help researchers develop rigorous scientific approaches to collect and analyze data for policy insights.”

After attending San Antonio Community College, Santos went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Trinity College and a master’s in statistics from the University of Michigan, where he studied survey sampling at the Survey Research Center.

In 2021 Santos was elected to be the 116th president of the American Statistical Association.

“With more than 40 years of experience, his expertise spans quantitative and qualitative research design, sampling, survey operations, and statistical analysis, and his specialty areas include undocumented immigrants and other disadvantaged populations,” reads his bio on the Urban Institute website. “Santos has worked across a wide range of policy areas including education, health, immigration and refugees, environmental issues, housing discrimination, travel behavior, and elections.”

“Our country saw what happened with the 2020 Census count under President Trump and how he weaponized it against our community,” said LULAC President Domingo Garcia in a statement. “The Census Bureau and the American people deserve to have someone who is an impartial statistics scientist, instead of a politician interfering with the agency’s important work.”

“He has pledged to lead the agency with scientific independence and integrity,” Garcia added.

“Given the growing evidence of an undercount of Latinos and other population groups in Census 2020, it is imperative that Mr. Santos provides strong leadership for the Bureau’s efforts to conduct evaluations and provide data quality indicators that will help inform our understanding of a potential undercount,” said National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund CEO Arturo Vargas in a statement. “We also urge him to ensure the Bureau begins to consider the impact of an undercount of Latinos on the full range of activities for which Census 2020 data are used, including civil rights enforcement and federal funding.

“With so much at stake, the Bureau must start to assess the options to ameliorate an undercount of the nation’s second-largest population group.”

“He is exactly the kind of person our country needs overseeing our census—impartial, highly experienced, someone from outside politics,” said Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) ahead of Thursday’s confirmation.

“Although this is a political appointment, I am no politician,” Santos said during his confirmation hearing. “I’m a scientist, executive-level manager, a researcher and a longtime supporter of the Census Bureau.”


Hector Luis Alamo is the Senior Editor at Latino Rebels and hosts the Latin[ish] podcast. Twitter: @HectorLuisAlamo