Senate Low-balls Census in Proposed FY 2022 CJS Appropriations Bill

In lieu of passing the remaining Fiscal Year 2022 appropriations bills out of the Appropriations subcommittees and full committee, the Senate Appropriations Committee posted bills and reports on October 18, 2021.

The Senate Appropriations version of the Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) appropriations bill, which funds the Census Bureau, would provide $1.432 billion for the Census Bureau (a 23 percent (can you double check that figure?) increase over Fiscal Year (FY) 21) — a disappointing $10 million less than the $1.442 billion provided by the House mark and the Biden Administration’s request and $568 million shy of the level recommended by the Census Project.

The Senate recommended $309,865,000 for the Current Surveys and Programs account and $1,122,537,000 for the Periodic Censuses and Programs account (increases of $21,462,000 and $304,296,000 above FY 2021, respectively.

The Census Bureau is currently operating under a Continuing Resolution funding most federal government functions until December 3 (covered in the September 2021 Census Project Update).

Among the details in the Senate committee report:

  • Budget reorganization: The committee “does not accept” the Administration proposal to restructure Census Bureau funding accounts.
  • Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP): The report specifies that the bill would provide “no less than the fiscal year 2021 enacted level for SIPP.”
  • Differential privacy: “The Committee encourages the Census Bureau to work closely with its advisory committees, stakeholders representing public interests, and the data user community to ensure the availability of useful data products, especially for population groups in rural and remote areas, while protecting the confidentiality of personal Census data. The Bureau should continue to consult regularly with data users on disclosure avoidance methods under consideration for all 2020 Census data products, as well as for other Bureau data programs, including the American Community Survey.”
  • Cybersecurity: The Census Bureau is directed to coordinate with the Homeland Security Department and other government agencies and stakeholders “to prepare for, prevent, and disrupt cyber intrusions and disinformation campaigns that have the potential to impact survey participation or compromise data collected by the Census Bureau.”
  • Partnerships: The committee directs the Bureau to continue to partner “with public libraries and other community technology centers to maximize the response to the American Community Survey and other surveys and assessments as appropriate. The Bureau is encouraged to work with libraries and library organizations, in coordination with the Institute of Museum and Library Services, regarding training for library staff and webinars or conference presentations to library audiences about Census surveys and assessments.”
  • American Community Survey (ACS): The report states the committee’s continued support for the ACS, including “as a testbed for innovative survey and data processing techniques that can be used across the Bureau,” and notes that it “is often the primary or only source of data available to State, local, and Federal agencies that need adequate information on a wide range of topics. The data provided is especially important to small towns and rural areas across the country, and the Bureau should ensure that rural areas are covered with the same accuracy as urban areas to the maximum extent practicable.” The Census Bureau is expected “to continue providing updates to the Committee on efforts to evaluate and, where possible, to reduce the number of questions included in the ACS, as well as the steps being taken to ensure that the ACS is conducted as efficiently and unobtrusively as possible.”

The Census Project pinpointed the ACS in particular in our budget proposal as in great need of investment after more than a decade of neglect. Our stakeholders view it as essential to remedy any weaknesses in the 2020 decennial count, and agree with the Senate that it is the primary source of social and economic data through the decade, especially for rural areas and small geographies. We will continue our education efforts on why greater investment in the ACS is essential if it truly will serve as a “testbed of innovative survey and data processing techniques.”

Uncertainty Regarding Federal and Census Funding As FY 2021 Concludes

The current fiscal year (FY) 2021 ends on September 30. Given the lack of progress in passing FY 2022 appropriations bills, Congress and the White House must agree upon the terms of a short-term spending bill, known as a Continuing Resolution (CR). On September 21, the U.S. House of Representatives passed, by a vote of 220-211, H.R. 5305, the FY2022 Extending Funding and Emergency Assistance Act, which would fund the federal government through December 3, 2021.

Typically, except for a few “anomalies,” CRs hold spending for federal agencies at the previous year’s level. For this initial FY 2022 CR, the White House submitted a list of anomaly requests, including an anomaly for the Census Bureau. Specifically, the anomaly would have provided the Census Bureau with sufficient funds to deliver 2020 Census data products, begin planning for the 2030 Census, maintain peak operations of the Economic Census, and support innovations as part of the Data Ingest and Collection for the Enterprise (DICE) program. The Census Project led a letter urging Congress to include the Census Bureau anomaly in the FY 2022 CR.

Given pressures to limit the number of spending anomalies, the CR passed by the House did not authorize one for the Census Bureau. Unofficially, the Census Bureau said that because of recent spending and saving strategies, the agency will be able to sustain all current activities for the duration of this CR. However, if it becomes necessary to enact another CR to keep the government open beyond the end of the year, the Census Bureau will need a funding anomaly to support decennial census activities, the 2022 Economic Census, and the DICE program.

On September 27, the U.S. Senate will begin debating H.R. 5305, but it is not currently expected to pass given Republican opposition to a provision that would suspend the federal debt limit. If the CR cannot pass the Senate, the federal government will shut down at midnight on September 30. Only activities deemed “essential” will remain operational. While the Census Bureau is not considered an “essential” agency, it would be able to sustain some of its decennial operations using carryover funding from prior appropriations for an unspecified period. This strategy is consistent with Census Bureau operations during the government shutdowns in 2018 and 2019.

Ideally, Congress will pass and send to the White House a CR that the President can sign into law while negotiating the final FY 2022 appropriations bills. The Census Project continues to urge Congress to provide the Census Bureau with $2 billion in FY 2022—a figure endorsed by numerous national, state, and local organizations and over 30 members of the U.S. Senate.

Final Evaluation of 2020 Census Quality from Statisticians’ Task Force

Today, the American Statistical Association’s 2020 Census Quality Indicators Task Force issued a final evaluation of the 2020 Census state-level apportionment numbers. It examined 10 process statistics relating to the collection and post-data collection operations of the 2020 Census, including Master Address File (MAF) development, self-response, nonresponse follow-up (NRFU), data compilation and processing, and group quarters enumeration.

The task force concluded that:

  1. “Indicators released to date by the bureau do not permit a thorough assessment of the 2020 Census data quality.”
  2. “Despite concerns that census numbers could be jeopardized by political interference, the task force found no evidence of anything other than an independent and professional enumeration process by the Census Bureau. The bureau appropriately delayed release of data products to ensure careful review and processing of the data according to bureau quality standards.”
  3. “Across the limited set of state-level process statistics evaluated by the task force, it found no major anomalies that would indicate census numbers are not fit for use for purposes of apportionment.”
  4. “The task force’s ability to more thoroughly evaluate the quality, accuracy, and coverage of the 2020 Census has been hampered by limits on available information and research.”
  5. “The set of process statistics evaluated by the task force is relevant for evaluating the quality of census numbers for apportionment, but not redistricting or distribution of federal funds. These and other assessments require scrutiny at more detailed levels of geography and subgroups of the population.”

While commending the Census Bureau for working with the National Academies “and other experts to conduct a more thorough assessment of 2020 Census data quality,” the ASA task force recommended that the 2030 Census must “incorporate explicit attention to evaluating and reporting on data quality.” That will require investment of resources in advance “to enable the use of process statistics for evaluating data quality before apportionment counts are released for future censuses.” Census quality assessment measures usually come “long after the release of census data products, but this is no longer sufficient since process statistics and other data can be available much sooner.”

The ASA task force was formed in September 2020 in response to concerns about the quality of the 2020 Census data, after many data collection challenges in 2020.

White House Requests Anomaly for Census Bureau in FY 2022 Continuing Resolution

The Biden Administration has requested a funding “anomaly” for the Census Bureau. As noted by Shalanda Young, acting director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), on September 7, “with the end of the fiscal year rapidly approaching, it’s clear that Congress will need to pass a short-term continuing resolution (CR).”

(There has been no action on Fiscal Year 2022 funding for the Census Bureau since House committee passage of the Commerce Justice Science (CJS) appropriations legislation in July.)

The White House’s proposed funding anomalies, described as “technical assistance to Congress on a short-term CR” and meaning funding at levels different from current fiscal year appropriations, include one for the Census Bureau:

Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Census Bureau – Periodic Censuses and Programs Sec. ___. Notwithstanding section 101, amounts are provided for “Department of Commerce—Bureau of the Census—Periodic Censuses and Programs” at a rate for operations of $1,132,537,000.

Language is needed to provide the Department of Commerce, Periodic Censuses and Programs account with a rate for operations of $1.1 billion to cover key operations of the 2020 and 2030 Decennial Censuses, the Economic Census, and the Data Ingest and Collection for the Enterprise program. Funding enacted for this account in FY 2021 relied on significant unobligated balances, which are now depleted. Without the anomaly, Decennial Census operations, preparations for the 2022 Economic Census, and development of the Data Ingest and Collection for the Enterprise program will be negatively impacted.

While this proposal mirrors the Administration’s request for FY 2022, stakeholders of The Census Project are seeking a higher level of funding, just as they did recently with the Senate.

Updates on the 2020 Census Quality Indicators – September 2

On September 2, the American Statistical Association posted its biweekly update regarding the status of the 2020 Census Quality Indicators efforts. The update is posted at: https://www.amstat.org/ASA/News/Updates-on-the-2020-Census-Quality-Indicators.aspx, the content for which is pasted below.

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September 2, 2021: After receiving feedback from the task force in July, the researchers submitted the final draft of their analysis and interpretation in mid-August. Currently, the task force is using their input, along with analyses of publicly available information by other TF members, to produce its report.

Updates on the 2020 Census Quality Indicators – August 19

On August 19, the American Statistical Association posted its biweekly update regarding the status of the 2020 Census Quality Indicators efforts. The update is posted at: https://www.amstat.org/ASA/News/Updates-on-the-2020-Census-Quality-Indicators.aspx, the content for which is pasted below.

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August 19, 2021: The task force plans to release its state-level report by the middle of September and will continue its biweekly updates until the release.

UCS Report on Census Undercount and Redistricting

A new report from the Union of Concerned Scientists attempts to explain “the challenges and shortcomings of the 2020 Census, and… practices for responsible, science-based use of the challenging Census data for redistricting to ensure fair representation of historically undercounted groups, such as immigrants, low-income communities, and people of color, and to guard against gerrymandering.” It aims to “identify communities where undercounting and redistricting may affect representation” and consider “best practices for censuses going forward to ensure communities are properly counted and represented.”

In conjunction, the activist group will host a webinar on “The Census, Science, and Fair Representation” on August 24.

Updates on the 2020 Census Quality Indicators – August 5

On August 5, the American Statistical Association posted its biweekly update regarding the status of the 2020 Census Quality Indicators efforts. The update is posted at: https://www.amstat.org/ASA/News/Updates-on-the-2020-Census-Quality-Indicators.aspx, the content for which is pasted below. The next update will be August 19.

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August 5, 2021: The task force would like to avoid confusion between its state-level report on apportionment numbers and the within-state redistricting files to be released by the US Census Bureau around August 16. Therefore, the task force is planning to release its report approximately a few weeks after the US Census Bureau’s release of the redistricting files.

Senate Committee Advances Nomination of Robert Santos as next Census Bureau Director

On Wednesday, August 4, by a vote of 10-3, the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee voted to advance the nomination of Robert Santos to be the next Director of the U.S. Census Bureau. Three Republican members of the committee, U.S. Senators James Lankford (R-OK), Rick Scott (R-FL) and Josh Hawley (R-MO) opposed the nomination without explaining their positions. The chair of the committee, Senator Gary Peters (D-MI), spoke favorably about Mr. Santos, saying he has “shown the leadership and dedication to scientific integrity needed to lead the Census Bureau’s important work.”

If confirmed, Mr. Santos would be the first person of color to serve as a Senate-confirmed or permanent director of the U.S. Census Bureau. It is not clear when the full Senate will consider his nomination.

Wade Henderson, Interim President and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, released a statement urging the Senate to approve Mr. Santos’ nomination promptly.

Census Director Nominee Deserves Swift and Bipartisan Confirmation – The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights (civilrights.org)

IG Report from Commerce Department on the 2020 Census’ Citizenship Question Addition

The Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Commerce released results of the office’s investigation into allegations against former Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross that he misrepresented the origins of the citizenship question proposed to be added to the 2020 Census.

The allegations were that:

  • “In depositions and congressional interviews, Justice and Commerce Department officials failed to disclose the substantive public policy role of political operative, Dr. Thomas Hofeller, in adding the [citizenship] question to the 2020 Census”; and
  • “In concealing the contribution of Dr. Hofeller, Justice and Commerce Department officials purposely obscured the impermissible racial and partisan motivations for adding a citizenship question—to be ‘advantageous to Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites’ and to ‘clearly be a disadvantage to the Democrats’—in both the Justice Department’s December 2017 letter requesting the citizenship question and the Commerce Department’s March 2018 memorandum adding the question.”

In the office’s July 6, 2021 report, the IG noted that the “investigation was unable to establish that Dr. Thomas Hofeller had a substantive public policy role in the addition of the citizenship question to the 2020 Census,” but that “Secretary Ross misrepresented the full rationale for the reinstatement of the citizenship question during his March 20, 2018, testimony before the House Committee on Appropriations and again in his March 22, 2018, testimony before the House Committee on Ways and Means.”

The IG’s investigation “was presented to and declined for prosecution by the Public Integrity Section of the DOJ’s Criminal Division.”