No Time for On-the-Job Training

Our country deserves qualified leadership at the Census Bureau.

by John C. Yang

When do qualifications matter? I ask because over the past year we’ve seen a number of unqualified individuals nominated or serving in leadership positions within this administration. From Taylor Weyeneth, an unqualified 24-year-old who until recently served as the deputy chief of staff in the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), to Thomas Brunell, a Texas political science professor and Trump’s rumored pick for deputy director of the U.S. Census Bureau, it seems that the needs of the agencies and the people they are meant to serve are at odds with the people being cherry-picked for leadership positions.

Finding the right individual for a deputy director position is as equally important as selecting the right person to lead these federal agencies. The deputy is often tasked with the day-to-day management of agency operations and staff. Currently, neither agency has a permanent director, which makes the position of deputy director evermore critical. Now is not the time for on-the-job training with people who are uniquely unqualified to be part of the senior leadership and can make unforced errors that career experts would know how to avoid.

According to a recent Washington Post article, during a government background check, the FBI discovered that Weyeneth lied repeatedly on his resume. He had no relevant job experience related to drug control policy nor did he have much professional work experience at all — less than a year at a New York law firm and working as a volunteer on the Trump campaign and transition. Because of these revelations, the ONDCP wisely announced that Weyeneth will step down by the end of this month.

Though he has a more extensive work history than Weyeneth, Brunell’s lack of qualifications for the deputy director of the Census Bureau is no less disturbing. Brunell has no prior background in statistical agency expertise or management experience. The administration should learn from the Weyeneth experience and not appoint Brunell.

Unfortunately, Brunell appears to be the opposite of what the country needs. During his career, he has testified in favor of redrawing congressional districts and authored a book opposing competitive elections. He is clearly not someone committed to impartiality and objectivity — an essential function of the job he wants to hold. At a minimum, many will see him as being partisan in this role — and this perception is enough to chill participation in already hard-to-count communities who are evermore wary of participating with the government in today’s hostile climate.

With only two years left to plan for and implement a fair and accurate count, I say again that now is not the time for on-the-job training. For Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and other underserved populations, it is essential that we participate so that we are not undercounted, not rendered invisible, or not able to access necessary resources for our communities.

The Census is vital for a functioning society. There has to be a time when we say, “Enough is enough.” The administration needs to put an end to placing unqualified people into positions that will have a profound effect on people’s lives for years to come.

John C. Yang is the President and Executive Director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC.