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Another politically charged Trump appointment at the Census bureau

The Trump administration has made another rare political appointment to the census bureau, naming Ben Overholt, a statistician at the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, to be its deputy director for data.

Donald Trump also recently instructed the bureau to exclude undocumented immigrants from the census data used to determine how many US House seats each state gets, a move that is likely to be unconstitutional (the constitution says the census must count all “persons”). The bureau announced earlier this month it is shortening the time to respond to the census, a move that will likely result in an undercount of immigrant, poor and minority communities.

Overholt’s appointment, first reported by NPR, comes at a time when the Bureau is under severe scrutiny and faces accusations of political interference. The Bureau is overwhelmingly staffed by career employees, and the Trump administration installed two political appointees earlier this year there that appear to have little qualification. Democrats in Congress have called for the removal of those employees.

In 2017, Kris Kobach, an anti-immigrant politician from Kansas, attempted to get Overholt detailed to Trump’s voter fraud commission, noting Overholt had done an analysis for Kobach after seeing him on TV. Kobach told officials in Vice-President Mike Pence’s office he wanted the request to have Overholt detailed to the commission elevated to Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Christy McCormick, a commissioner on the Election Assistance Commission, also praised Overholt in an email to Pence’s office: “When I was at DOJ, we had numerous conversations that make me pretty confident he is conservative (and Christian, too).”

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Overholt has served as a statistician at the EEOC since 2018, according to his LinkedIn profile. Prior to that, he worked in the voting section at the Justice Department for five years and served in the US army for nearly 14 years. He has a PhD and MS in Applied Statistics and Research Methods from the University of North Colorado.

The Bureau said in a statement Overholt would ensure “2020 Census data products are of the highest quality”.

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