JUNE 23, 2022 — The U.S. Census Bureau announced the departure this fall of Associate Director for Research and Methodology and Chief Scientist, John Abowd, who has held the position since June 2016, and the assignment of Sallie Keller, division director and distinguished professor in biocomplexity at the Biocomplexity Institute at the University of Virginia (UVA). The Research and Methodology Directorate leads critical work to modernize our operations and products. Abowd is an internationally renowned scholar whose research on privacy and statistical disclosure limitation has helped the Census Bureau improve products and honor the commitment to confidentiality of data.
“It has been an honor and privilege to serve as the Bureau’s chief scientist for the past six years,” said Dr. Abowd. “I have enjoyed every aspect of my 25 years working at the agency, and I will miss the many people that I had the pleasure to work with. Sallie Keller is an ideal scholar to take on this job. She brings a wealth of talents and experience to the position.”
Abowd’s long association with the Census Bureau began in 1998 when he joined the team of distinguished research fellows that helped found the longitudinal employer-household dynamics program. In 2008, he led the team that created the world’s first application of a differentially private data protection system for the program’s OnTheMap job location tool.
He is currently leading the agency’s efforts to create a differentially private disclosure avoidance system for the 2020 Census and future data products. The 2020 Census is the world’s first large-scale data product to use the new safeguards. The system will provide formula-driven, finely calibrated protection against attempts to reidentify individuals in the statistics we publish. These emerging threats are a consequence of today’s powerful computers, advances in data science, and the proliferation of easily accessible “Big Data” outside our control.
“The Census Bureau is grateful to Dr. Abowd for his leadership in the critical work to modernize the Census Bureau’s operations and products. Dr. Abowd’s research will leave a meaningful and lasting impact across the social sciences as well as important public policy advances,” Census Bureau Deputy Director Ron Jarmin said. “Dr. Keller is a nationally recognized research scientist who brings experience and drive towards continued innovation. We look forward to her leadership and expertise in helping to shape the future of social and economic statistics for all statistical programs at the Census Bureau.”
Keller will join the Census Bureau through an interagency personnel agreement (IPA) as a special advisor on July 1. She will assume the role of associate director on Oct. 15. An IPA is a temporary assignment between the federal government and colleges and universities or similar eligible entities with the intention of bringing on unique talent to support agency priorities.
“Sallie is also committed to the principles of diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility in our workplace,” added Census Bureau Director Robert L. Santos.
“The U.S. Census Bureau established itself long ago as an organization that conceptualizes, values and implements new ideas to drive purposeful change when it comes to how to best represent people, places and the economy,” Keller said. “I am excited to join Director Santos, Deputy Director Ron Jarmin, and the associate directors in working with the Census Bureau’s talented scientific professionals to continue to move the U.S. Census Bureau forward in this regard as well as supporting their efforts to provide essential products that are useful to this country’s decision-makers.”
In addition to Keller’s Biocomplexity Institute role, she holds appointments in UVA’s School of Data Science, School of Medicine’s Public Health Sciences department, and School of Engineering and Applied Science’s Engineering Systems and Environment department. Keller is an elected member of the U.S. National Academy of Engineering. She has served as a member of the National Academy of Sciences Board on Mathematical Sciences and Their Applications, the Committee on National Statistics, and has chaired the Committee on Applied and Theoretical Statistics. She is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, elected member of the International Statistics Institute, and fellow and past president of the American Statistical Association.