Senator Questions Big Tech About 2020 Census Misinformation Campaigns

Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) recently sent letters to big tech companies urging them to take “responsible actions… to help ensure that the 2020 Census is full, fair and accurate.”

He referenced a “highly politicized atmosphere around the decennial census” which “leaves census takers especially vulnerable to misinformation.” Since “online platforms play a role in both the promotion and spread of misinformation and have a responsibility to put in place effective countermeasures,” Schatz urged the companies to treat the 2020 Census as “an extraordinary circumstance warranting temporary heightened actions.” Actions he recommended included “initiating immediate takedowns” of posts “identified as fraud, such as those purporting to be from the Census Bureau, that are phishing for users’ personal information,” and “identified as disinformation,” policies addressing “unintentional misinformation,” and notifying “users who have engaged” with such content in a “timely manner.”

Schatz’s letters also requested quarterly reports; notification about policies to Congress, the Census Bureau, and census stakeholders (including the Census Project); providing access to their platforms for “trusted partners”; and reports “after the 2020 Census end” with assessments about how effective all these actions were, any lessons learned, and any related data analyses and summaries.

Amendment Time: CJS Appropriations Legislation Faces Census-Related Amendments on House Floor

Appropriations legislation (H.R. 3055), including funding for the Census Bureau, will be considered on the floor of the House of Representatives starting as soon as today. Several of the amendments made in order by the House Rules Committee to Division A of the bill (CJS) may be of interest to Census Project stakeholders and may be offered during debate.

  • Amendment #149 from Rep. Steve King (R-IA) would strip section 534, a provision of the CJS bill that would prohibit questions on the 2020 Census that were not part of the 2018 End-to-End Census Test. The language in section 534 was intended to prohibit the citizenship question on the 2020 Census.
  • Amendment #86 from Reps. Yvette Clarke (D-NY) and Gil Cisneros (D-CA) would prohibit spending any funds on activities that would violate the Census Bureau’s confidentiality policies.
  • Amendment #71 by Reps. Jason Crow (D-CO) and Veronica Escobar (D-TX) would require the Census Bureau to follow existing law that prohibits sharing of data or information it collects with any department or agency, especially data gathered through data sharing agreements, and penalizes disclosure of such information.

The Census Project takes no position on these amendments.

Census Stakeholders Support Critical FY2020 Funding Ahead of House Floor Vote

As the U.S. House of Representatives moves through the annual Appropriation process, more than 125 business, civic, non-profit and local governments wrote to every Member of the House urging full funding for the imminent 2020 Census. Organized by the Census Project, a broad-based network of business, civic, and academic groups who closely monitor 2020 Census preparations, the letter was cosigned by groups as diverse as the American Pediatric Association, National League of Cities, the Nielson company, the Population Association of America and dozens of varied state and local groups.

The groups wrote; “…[t]he nation’s largest peacetime mobilization and very first responsibility under our Constitution requires substantial resources. An underfunded census would jeopardize the availability and validity of data used to make essential economic, political, and planning decisions in the nation’s private, public, and non-profit sectors over the next decade. To this end, we urge the House of Representatives to ensure a 2020 Census that is equally successful in all communities by supporting the proposed Census Bureau funding level in the FY 2020 CJS bill, and by working to enact a final bill by the start of the fiscal year.”

As the Census Bureau makes final preparations and begins rolling out massive operations this fall to start the decennial headcount, the national coalition of census experts and data consumers stressed the challenges ahead for a fair, complete and accurate count.

“…In eight months, the decennial census will be in full swing. By all accounts, the 2020 Census will be the largest, most difficult enumeration in our nation’s history. The U.S. population is increasingly diverse — geographically, culturally, and linguistically — with households becoming more complex, and a greater share of residents falling into “harder to reach” categories. Further complicating preparations and implementation, extreme natural disasters (e.g., hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires, and flooding) will require modified, more costly census methods to ensure an accurate enumeration in recovering communities. In addition, the focus on Internet response will be challenging for communities without reliable broadband service and households lacking internet access or familiarity,” their letter stated.

The Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies appropriations act, (H.R. 3055) allocates $8.45 billion for the Census Bureau, which includes $7.5 billion in dedicated funding for the 2020 Census. That closely reflects what stakeholders believe the Census Bureau needs to conduct a successful 2020 Census, enabling the agency to meet unique challenges facing the nation’s first “high-tech census.”

Stressing the critical timing of the House vote, the Census Project members emphasized, “…we urge you to support the robust funding level for the constitutionally required 2020 Census in the House Appropriations Committee bill. The Census Bureau has one chance to get the count right in all communities — there are no do-overs!”

Briefings for House and Senate Staff on Census 2020


The Census Project recently presented at briefings on both sides of Congress.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) hosted a briefing for House staff on May 17, 2019, featuring Mary Jo Hoeksema, Co-Director of the Census Project. She, along with Corrine Yu (Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights), John Foti (Service Employees Union International), Angela Manso (NALEO Educational Fund), Terry Minnis (Asian Americans Advancing Justice), and Jeri Green (National Urban League), updated staff on a wide range of census-related issues, including funding concerns and the status of the proposed citizenship question. Approximately 30 staff attended, representing a wide range of offices including freshman and senior members of the U.S. House of Representatives.

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hosted a briefing for more than 40 Senate staff on May 20, 2019, featuring: Howard Fienberg, codirector of the Census Project; Robert Goldenkoff, director of strategic issues for the Government Accountability Office (GAO), Denise Desiderio, senior policy advisor in American Indian Law at Akin Gump; Angela Manso, director of policy & legislative affairs at NALEO Educational Fund; and Terri-Ann Lowenthal, census consultant. The panelists covered the state of 2020 Census preparations, budget considerations, the importance for rural areas, native communities, and the business community, and how Congressional offices can assist the get-out-the-count, as well as helping them prepare for expectations during and after the count next year.

What States Can Do To Get Out the 2020 Census Count

State-level officials can play a big and helpful role in getting out the count for the 2020 Census.

The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) recently hosted a webinar for state officials to help them get oriented and involved. “Why do states care about a federal project? Because census data will be used to determine political and economic power for a decade to come.”

Activities can include creating or joining Complete Count Committees, committing funding to census outreach or discussing with their constituents the importance of the decennial census and participation. The webinar also aims to help identify the tools officials will need to target low-response areas in their constituency and try to improve response.

Watch the webinar:

Census Project Experts Testify at Joint Economic Committee

The Congressional Joint Economic Committee held a hearing on May 22, 2019 on “The Economic Impacts of the 2020 Census and Business Uses of Federal Data.” Howard Fienberg, codirector of the Census Project, and Andrew Reamer, research professor at George Washington University (and frequent Census Project contributor), testified.

Watch the video recording:

The hearing proved to be a useful summary of the importance of the constitutionally-mandated count, not only for fair political representation, but a decade long impact on economic activity, entrepreneurship, and investment.

Although “the Census Bureau aims for a 100% accounting of the U.S. population every ten years,” Fienberg testified, “it rarely achieves that goal. Hard-to-count populations and areas (such as remote and rural areas, racial and ethnic minorities, young children, and low-income households) are normally undercounted. Small inaccuracies in census data have a big impact” on data-driven decision making, which is why the business community cares about the funding and integrity of the 2020 Census.

Reamer emphasized that “the widespread use of data derived from the decennial census by businesses and nonprofit organizations, workers and students, and federal, state and local governments has a substantial positive effect on the vitality of the U.S. economy and the nation’s 6 million private firms. To put this number in perspective, 5.3 million U.S. firms (89 percent) have less than 20 employees. At the same time, the 20,000 firms with 500 or more employees account for nearly half of private employment. In other words, the availability of census-derived data has a substantial impact on the profitability of millions of very small firms and of the very large firms that collectively employ tens of millions of workers.”

Census Bureau Should Spend Available 2020 Census Resources Now

Warning against short changing the 2020 Census, Congressional appropriators need “to ensure that the Bureau is spending adequate resources now to meet” Congress’ directives.

In correspondence to House and Senate Appropriations Committee leadership on April 29, 2019, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, NALEO Educational Fund, Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC, and the Census Project warned that, “[T]he window of opportunity to enhance and refine key census operations that are most likely to reach historically hard-to-count population groups is closing fast. We are alarmed that the administration has decided to carry over to FY 2020 more than $1 billion in resources available for 2020 Census activities in FY 2019, in order to reduce the direct appropriation it has proposed for next year. In doing so, the administration is short-changing important 2020 Census outreach programs that Congress directed in report language accompanying both the FY 2018 and FY 2019 Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies appropriations bills. We believe that the Census Bureau must expand or plan those programs now, in order to deploy them effectively and prudently in support of peak census operations next year.”

The groups urged Congressional appropriators to “to require immediate and robust Census Bureau action to achieve the following goals” already set by Congress:

  1. “Increase the number of Partnership Program staff and the pace of hiring and onboarding.”
  2. “Expand targeted communications, including the availability of culturally and linguistically appropriate advertising and promotional materials, to boost participation among historically hard-to-count communities and population groups.”
  3. “Questionnaire Assistance Centers (QAC) in hard-to-count communities.”
  4. “Establish a contingency fund to cover costs not anticipated when the president submitted his FY 2019 budget request.”

We concluded by urging them “to ensure that the Census Bureau is spending available resources in the ways that Congress intended and before it is too late to bolster vital activities through cost-effective activities.”

Review the full letters to the House and Senate.