Both the Washington Post and National Public Radio (NPR) have paid tribute to former Census Director C. Louis Kincannon after his passing on December 15. Both the NPR story, Kincannon: Painting A More Accurate Portrait Of America, and the Post story, C. Louis Kincannon, former head of Census Bureau, dies at 72, praise Kincannon for bringing more diversity to the Census Bureau. The Post piece quotes Kincannon friend and former colleague A. Mark Neuman: “He was a pioneer in diversity and inclusion. He wanted the Census Bureau to look like and sound like America.” The NPR piece interviewed Acting Director Tom Mesenbourg who, in response to Kincannon's desire to hire census takers who lived in the neighborhoods where they were collecting data, said, "That way they're familiar with the special challenges. They're familiar with some of the linguistic diversity we might face. They're recognized in the community and they know how to interact with folks."
Acting Director Mesenbourg also paid tribute to Kincannon in his December 17 Director's Blog entry, Remembering Louis Kincannon.
Terri Ann Lowenthal, now a co-director of the Census Project, praised Kincannon in a 12/20 email to the Census Project titled, "A Holiday Prayer for Census Bipartisanship":
I offer a few personal observations from the 26 years I had the pleasure and honor of working with this good man.
I was a newly-minted staff director of the House Subcommittee on Census and Population when I first met Louis, then Deputy Director of the Census Bureau, in 1987. Louis graciously invited me to meet at his office, where his fondest artifact was a framed Western Union telegram offering him a position with the Bureau of the Census in the 1960s, for a staggering salary of little more than $15,000! For many of the eight years I served as staff director, until he accepted a position in Paris as the first chief statistician of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development in 1992, Louis and I maintained a close working relationship — despite (or maybe in spite of) the fact that he served under two Republican administrations while I represented the interests of a solid Democratic majority in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Even after his return from Paris and appointment as Census Director in the second Bush administration (by then I had left the Hill to become a consultant to nonprofits, business groups, and foundations on census issues), Louis and I collaborated on many activities in support of the 2010 decennial census and nascent American Community Survey. Until his passing, Louis actively (and often bravely, I believe) put party affiliation aside and helped stakeholders advocate for policies in support of a comprehensive, accurate census and a viable federal statistical system.
And that’s the point I want to highlight here. Partisanship never got in the way of Louis Kincannon’s dedication to the integrity of the Census Bureau’s work and the federal statistical system. Sure, I disagreed with some of his positions and decisions, but I never doubted that he took the stands he did based on his best professional judgment. I’m sure he pushed back against any attempts by political appointees, Republican or Democrat, to interfere inappropriately with the Census Bureau’s work. Louis was devoted to the seemingly quaint notion (in some circles) that Census Bureau data are a unique and powerful national resource necessary to guide objective policymaking, as well as a prudent investment in our nation’s future well being.
The lesson is not for future Census directors; all of the ones with whom I’ve had the honor of working have demonstrated nothing but objectivity and professionalism. Rather, my plea is to Congress, where I cut my political teeth and came to understand that working out differences together in a bipartisan way is far preferable to the lack of meaningful and respectful dialogue between elected officials with opposing views, as well as with the public servants they are constitutionally charged with overseeing. The census is the foundation of our nation’s democratic system of governance and the country’s largest and most inclusive peacetime mobilization. We’re all in it together.
I will miss you, Louis.