The House Oversight Committee called on Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to withdraw the installation of two controversial political appointees at the Census Bureau.
“In the alternative,” the House committee said in a letter to Ross on Monday, the committee is requesting that the Commerce Department turn over various documents related to their appointment and why “these responsibilities should be carried out by political appointees rather than civil servants.”
The Trump administration’s announcement last month that Nathaniel Cogley and Adam Korzeniewski were joining the Census Bureau has prompted widespread scrutiny of the move.
There are very few political appointee roles at the Bureau, and the titles that the two new-hires have been given — for Cogley, deputy director for policy; and for Korzeniewski, Cogley’s senior advisor — put them within the Bureau’s upper echelons.
Korzeniewski’s and Cogley’s resumes contain little of the experience typical for working at the wonky and technocratic agency.
Cogley, the House committee letter notes, was previously a political science professor who wrote op-eds bashing the House Dems’ impeachment process and who tweeted about Democratic primaries. Korzeniewski served as a paid consultant to the congressional campaign of Joseph Saladino, who was also known by his YouTube personality, Joey Salads. Saladino’s unsuccessful run was fueled by the reputation he had earned as a YouTube prankster, where he often times employed racial stereotypes in his bits.
Before they were installed at the Census Bureau, Korzeniewski and Cogley were working as aides to Commerce Department deputy secretary Karen Dunn Kelley. Their appointment to the Bureau blindsided even its Trump-appointed Director Steve Dillingham, according to a Politico report, and the move was pushed by the White House.
What responsibilities they’ll be taking on is still unclear, and the timing of the appointments was also met with suspicion, because it came so late in the operational timeline for the 2020 census count.
“A successful Census depends on the Bureau’s ability to conduct its activities in a professional, impartial, and non-partisan manner,” the House committee letter said. “For these reasons, past Administrations historically have limited the number of political appointees within the Bureau. Breaking with this precedent and installing more political appointees—particularly those with such starkly partisan backgrounds as Mr. Cogley and Mr. Korzeniewski—threatens the Bureau’s responsibility to successfully execute a full, fair, and accurate 2020 Census. ”
The Commerce Department did not immediately respond to TPM’s inquiry about Monday’s letter.
The Bureau has said it will participate in a Commerce Department inspector general examination of the appointments. Inspector General Peggy E. Gustafson has sought information about why their positions were created, how the appointees were recruited and what the goals of their tenure will be, according to the AP.
The controversy comes as the Bureau faces serious challenges in conducting the constitutionally mandated decennial census during the coronavirus pandemic. House Democrats have also been critical of the citizenship data project President Trump tasked to the Bureau after he lost the legal fight to put a citizenship question on the 2020 census. The Bureau is currently trying to assemble that data using existing government records and plans on releasing it in a form that will allow states to exclude non-citizens in their redistricting counts.
Read the House Oversight letter on the Korzeniewski and Cogley appointments below: