Commerce Department IG Alert to Deleterious Consequences from Accelerated 2020 Census Timetable

In reviewing “the circumstances surrounding the accelerated 2020 Census schedule,” the Commerce Department’s Inspector General (IG) has found that the decision to rush the completion of the 2020 Census “was not made by the Census Bureau” and that the “accelerated schedule increases the risks to obtaining a complete and accurate 2020 Census.”

A new IG report, “The Acceleration of the Census Schedule Increases the Risks to a Complete and Accurate 2020 Census,” (No. OIG-20-050-M) explained that “to produce a quality 2020 Census, both the data collection and data processing components are critical,” and both risk being shortchanged by an accelerated timetable.

Under the rushed schedule, time allowed for non-response follow-up (NRFU) was reduced “from approximately 80 days to approximately 56 days. Other changes to data collection included reducing certain contact attempts from six to one, such as contact attempts to housing units with conflicting information.” Census Bureau staff told the IG “that the largest risk to data collection posed by the accelerated plan was the decreased time to recover from possible external contingencies affecting local areas or regions. As one senior official put it, there is no ‘time to spare in the operations anymore.’” Beyond risks from exogenous events, like natural disasters, the Census Bureau now lacks any “‘runway’ of time to correct discovered errors through re-enumeration, as was necessary in the field portion of the 2010 and 2000 Censuses.”

The Census Bureau “determined that to meet the December 31, 2020, deadline,” as requested by the Commerce Department, “data processing must begin October 1, 2020. That, in turn, shortened the time that the Bureau had to process the data from 150 days to 90 days.”

Senior Census Bureau staff “identified several risks in the data processing phase,” including that: (1) “the processing time has been so compressed that if an error is found, and a program needs to be started again, the Bureau may not be able to do so and still meet the December 31, 2020, statutory deadline”; and (2) “certain planned data processing reviews have been shortened or removed entirely.”

The IG noted that even top staff at the Census Bureau, “including the Director, did not know who ultimately made the decision to accelerate the Census schedule,” so the IG report can’t identify who made the decision. “However, Bureau officials confirmed that the decision was not the Bureau’s.”

This new IG report comes hard on the heels of another IG report, released last week, which examined the Census bureau’s “quality control processes” designed “to ensure that enumerators follow procedures when conducting interviews with households.” It warned that “failure to adhere to quality control processes increases the risk of data inaccuracy,” and “that ACO supervisors are not resolving alerts within the 3-day timeframe established to minimize the number of enumerator actions that do not follow procedures.” (See “Delays to Resolving Alerts Limit the Bureau’s Ability to Maintain or Improve the Quality of 2020 Census Data Final Memorandum.” No. OIG-20-048-M. September 17, 2020.)

2020 Census and New Continuing Funding Resolution

On Monday, September 21, House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita M. Lowey (D-NY) introduced a continuing resolution (CR), H.R. 8319, to extend federal government funding through December 11—a necessary action since the current fiscal year (Fiscal Year (FY 2020)) ends on September 30. The agreement, which was struck by House Speaker Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Mnuchin, will be considered in the U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday, September 22. It is expected to pass. The timeline for Senate consideration has not been announced, but it must be approved before the end of the Fiscal Year on September 30 (otherwise, we risk a potential government shutdown).  

Census stakeholders had been urging negotiators to include language in the CR to extend the 2020 Census statutory reporting deadlines, such as from the bipartisan Census Deadline Extension Act (S. 4571, H.R. 8250). The final agreement does not include this language.

It does, however, provide the Census Bureau with $1.514 billion to support 2020 Census operations. The amount represents the President’s Fiscal Year 2021 request for the Periodic Census and Programs account plus $122 million. The Administration’s request had assumed $122 million in carryover spending from FY 2020 to FY 2021. By providing the additional $122 million in the CR, the Census Bureau is guaranteed access to this funding rather than assuming the carryover balances will be available to support additional 2020 Census costs through December 11. The CR also allows the Census Bureau to spend their funding at a faster rate, granting the agency additional flexibility if it is needed.

New Technical Report Estimates Impact of Different Deadlines for the 2020 Census

A new technical report from the American Statistical Association investigated “the consequences of extending” the 2020 Census’ “data-collection deadline to October 31st or later so that the Bureau has additional time to follow up with non-responding households and engage in other post-processing operations.” Their research focused on the impact of a later deadline on Congressional apportionment and the distribution of federal Medicaid funding and found “significant consequences to an early cessation of data collection operations.”

Estimates from the report suggested that, under the shortened September 30 deadline for census counting operations:

  • “California, Ohio, or Idaho could gain seats in the House of Representatives, while Florida or Montana could lose seats (that they might not have under an October 31st deadline)”; and
  • “Texas, Florida, Arizona, Georgia, and North Carolina could collectively forfeit as much as five hundred million dollars in federal Medicaid funding each year under a September 30th deadline (that they would receive under an October 31st deadline).”

“What would happen if the deadline for the 2020 Census data collection operation changed? Estimates of apportionment of the House of Representatives and distribution of federal Medicaid funding under different deadlines.” By Jonathan Auerbach and Steve Pierson. September 17, 2020.

GAO Warns That Compressing Census Timeframes Risks an Accurate Count

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced the Census Bureau “to change how it will operate” and a new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) warns that, as the Bureau implements those changes and “anticipates completing them within the new compressed timeframes,” that a number of areas require close watch. “We have previously reported that late design changes can introduce new risks and the Bureau identified this as a risk in August of 2015. Delays, the resulting compressed timeframes, implementation of untested procedures, and continuing challenges such as COVID-19 could escalate census costs and undermine the overall quality of the count.”

As the GAO demonstrates, the impact of a rushed 2020 Census could be quite negative.

Bipartisan Bill introduced in U.S. Senate to Extend 2020 Census Statutory Deadlines and Operations

On September 15, U.S. Senators Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), and Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) introduced a bipartisan bill that would extend two key statutory deadlines for the 2020 Census by four months and require the Census Bureau to continue field operations through October 31, 2020. The bill, the 2020 Census Deadline Extension Act, was endorsed by more than 200 national and state organizations. More information about the bill, including a link to its text, is available online in a press release issued by Senator Schatz. A bipartisan companion measure, H.R. 8250, was also introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Congressman Young (R-Alaska) and Congressman Gallego (D-Arizona).

Next Census Scientific Advisory Committee Meeting is September 17-18

The Census Scientific Advisory Committee will be meeting next (virtually) on September 17 and 18, 2020. With the 2020 Census still going and attendant controversy about a rushed end to the census, the discussion should be interesting. As explained in the Federal Register, the meeting “will address policy, research, and technical issues relating to a full range of Census Bureau programs and activities, including decennial, economic, field operations, information technology, and statistics.”

The agenda currently includes presentations on and discussions of current census operations, administrative data use, plans for post-enumeration evaluation, the use of differential privacy mechanisms, and the use of citizen age voting population data.

Interested viewers can connect via WebEx on September 17 and 18.

Republican Congresswoman Speaks Out Against a Rushed 2020 Census

Sharing her “serious concerns with the U.S. Census Bureau’s decision to end self-response and field data collection operations for the decennial census by September 30, 2020, one month earlier than previously announced,” Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González-Colón, Republican Representative for Puerto Rico, wrote to Census Director Steven Dillingham on August 11 that she was “particularly worried about the implications this could have on the accuracy and completeness of the count in low self-response jurisdictions like Puerto Rico.”

González-Colón urged the Census Bureau to provide “additional time,” as originally planned in April, to “support efforts to achieve an accurate and complete count, which is vital to ensure we receive appropriate federal funding to support Puerto Rico’s ongoing recovery process and continue meeting the needs of our citizens during the next decade.”

Her letter echoes the support from a recent bipartisan Senate letter, Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT), Rep. Don Young (R-AK), the U.S. business community, and nearly 900 stakeholder groups.

Read Rep. González-Colón’s letter.

Republican Congressman Opposes Rushed Completion of 2020 Census

Rep. Don Young (R-AK) recently told Census Director Dillingham that “Alaska communities and census workers deserve the time needed to produce a complete count.”

“The plan you announced last April acknowledged the devastating impact” of the pandemic, he wrote on August 27, 2020, but “the time lost and other disruptions caused by this delay mean that Census workers will not be able to finish a complete and accurate count by the end of September.” On top of the pandemic-related problems, “Alaska currently has the lowest Census self-response rate in the nation.”

A rushed count would leave Alaska with “the largest inaccuracy in counting of any state and that will be reflected by a loss of federal funding for services like schools, infrastructure improvements, economic development, Medicaid and countless other vital programs.”

Recognizing that Census Bureau staff “have stated that they need additional time,” Congressman Young urged the Bureau to “extend the deadline to end field operations so there is adequate time to complete the Non-Response Follow Up phase of the Census.”

The Congressman’s letter echoes the support from a recent bipartisan Senate letter, Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT), the U.S. business community, and nearly 900 stakeholder groups.

Read Rep. Young’s letter.

Efforts to #SavetheCensus

As you know, last month, the Department of Commerce abandoned its request to Congress to push back the 2020 Census statutory reporting deadlines, forcing the Census Bureau to rush through remaining counting operations and curtail vital quality check and data processing activities—even though the national self-response rate at the start of the door knocking operation was the lowest ever, and the number of homes to visit in person the highest ever. Census stakeholders, nationwide, expressed alarm as indicated by the over 900 national, state, and local organizations that signed an August 6 letter organized by The Census Project to leaders in the U.S. Senate, urging that chamber to include language in its next COVID relief measure that would extend the 2020 Census statutory deadlines for delivering apportionment and redistricting data. (The U.S. House of Representatives already included this language in its last COVID relief package, the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act (H.R. 6800)). Without congressional action, the Administration will be allowed to pursue its plan to rush completion of the 2020 Census—including curtailing quality assurance and data processing activities—and deliver flawed apportionment data by the end of the year.

Now, there is a window to push House and Senate leadership to prioritize including an extension of the statutory data reporting deadlines in upcoming legislation and to encourage Senators to support that effort. If your organization supports this effort, then please consider participating in efforts leading census stakeholder organizations are conducting currently—especially via social media!

It’s time to make some noise. TELL CONGRESS: SAVE THE CENSUS. (#SavetheCensus #DontRushtheCensus)

HERE’S HOW TO TAKE ACTION

HERE’S WHAT TO KNOW

  • The public health crisis caused significant delays and disruptions to 2020 Census operations.
  • That’s why the administration, alongside experts within the Census Bureau, asked Congress to push back the December 31, 2020 deadline for transmitting the state population totals used for congressional apportionment to the president, to April 30, 2021.
  • In a bid to control how congressional apportionment is calculated, the Trump administration has abandoned its original request that Congress grant the bureau a reporting extension and is forcing the Census Bureau to cut the census short by one month.
  • Without quick congressional action, the Census Bureau faces an impossible deadline of December 31, 2020 to count, review, process, tabulate, and report 2020 Census apportionment and redistricting data.
  • Rural and tribal communities, people of color, and people with disabilities, and more have been hit hard by this pandemic. Their self-response rates are already low and many will be erased altogether if the Census Bureau doesn’t have the time it needs to count them.
  • Rushing the count guarantees millions of people will remain uncounted, skewing congressional representation, redistricting, and critical community funding for every state in the country for the next 10 years.
  • Congress needs to act before it’s too late. People in this country need lasting COVID-19 relief and that bill needs to give the Census Bureau the time and flexibility it needs to complete the 2020 Census. 

Resources

Thank you for considering this opportunity to #SavetheCensus!

The 2020 Census is About Letting People Know You Exist

“For many communities across the nation, especially people of color and those living in rural areas, the calculus is simple and dire: fill out the 2020 census or risk a historic undercount that could jeopardize everything from a share in $1.5 trillion in federal funding to political representation in Congress.”

A recent article in USA Today highlighted the August 6th Census Project stakeholder letter to Senate leaders urging a provision in the next coronavirus relief bill to delay the statutory reporting deadlines for census data:

“The census count isn’t just about political power, but it’s also a tool used by the private sector to decide where to put that next mall or store, real bread and butter stuff that determines where you might be able to shop or work locally,” says Howard Fienberg, co-director of the Census Project, the nation’s largest census advocacy group, which organized the letter sent to McConnell and Schumer. Fienberg notes that a big undercount is likely to impact rural areas that already face limited commercial and federal resources, places like Big Horn County, Montana, (population: 13,000), where 82% of the population currently is uncounted by the 2020 census, or Rich County, Utah (1,800), where 88% have yet to respond. “This is all about letting people know you exist,” he says.

– “2020 Census ’emergency’ threatens to leave out communities of color and rural Americans.” by Marco della Cava. USA TODAY. August 16, 2020. https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2020/08/16/census-emergency-pits-trump-against-activists-communities-color/3350691001/