Census Project and House Census Caucus Cosponsor “Census 101” Briefing for New and Returning Staff

On February 7, The Census Project, at the invitation of the House Census Caucus, sponsored a briefing to inform new and returning congressional staff members about key census funding, policy, and planning issues facing the 116th Congress. The event was standing-room only with about 90 House and Senate staff members in attendance.

Mr. Ed Pagano, Akin Gump, and former Chief of Staff to Senator Patrick Leahy, Ranking Member, Senate Appropriations Committee, discussed the unique nature of the decennial census funding cycle and the major 2020 Census activities that the Census Bureau will be conducting in fiscal years 2019 and 2020. Ms. Corrine Yu, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and Ms. Terry Ao Minnis, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, provided an overview of major policy issues, including the evolution and potential implications of the proposed citizenship question, undercount threats for young children, rural areas, and communities of color, and information technology challenges specific to the nation’s first “digital” census. Mr. Steve Jost, Subject Matter, and former Associate Director of Communications, U.S. Census Bureau, discussed the intricacies of the decennial census communications plan and reviewed resources that are available to help congressional offices promote participation in the 2020 Census and assist their constituents.

In addition to the briefing, earlier in the week, Census Project members participated in over 20 meetings with freshmen House offices, informing staff about a wide range of census-related funding and policy issues.

The speakers’ slides are posted here:

New Census Priorities on House Oversight Committee

While the new chairman of the House Oversight & Reform Committee, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD-07), has scheduled Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to discuss concerns with the 2020 Census at a hearing on March 14, the newly-announced chairman of the House subcommittee overseeing the Census Bureau is discussing his own concerns.

Speaking to Bethesda Beat, Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD-08), chairman of the Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, discussed his subcommittee’s jurisdiction over the U.S. Census Bureau:

“I’m actively exploring hearings on the citizenship question and the census,” said Raskin, referring to the Trump administration’s controversial plan to ask about citizenship status during the forthcoming 2020 census.

A federal judge recently blocked the Census Bureau from posing the question, but Raskin added, “The problem is that they’re trying to appeal to the Supreme Court. We would like to put the nail in the coffin for the ill-fated citizenship question, and…demonstrate how the question was not in any way generated by the Department of Justice’s voting rights section, but rather was a clear political plant by the White House.”

Census Bureau Overwhelmed By Public Comments Opposing Citizenship Question

“The Census Bureau received 147,831 documents with comments” on this summer’s Federal Register Notice, according to an analysis posted today on Regulations.gov.

As highlighted by National Public Radio (NPR) reporter Hansi Lo Wang, nearly 138,000 of those comments were about the proposed question on citizenship, and about 99 percent of such comments were opposed.

Many of the Census Project’s stakeholders were a part of that opposition.

The count of documents doesn’t even include all the individuals and groups that signed onto petitions that were submitted.


New Director Steven Dillingham Arrives to Partial Census Bureau Shut Down

Census stakeholders congratulate Dr. Steven Dillingham for his confirmation as Census Bureau Director by voice vote in the Senate on January 2, 2019. We look forward to working with Dr. Dillingham to ensure that the 2020 Census is conducted accurately and inclusively and to protect the integrity of the American Community Survey (ACS).

Unfortunately, Director Dillingham arrives to a partially shut-down Census Bureau. Congress and the President have yet to agree upon Fiscal Year 2019 appropriations for multiple agencies, including the Census Bureau (which is funded as part of the Commerce, Justice, Science appropriations bill).

Fortunately, 2020 Census preparations and certain surveys paid for by other agencies are still underway, as we requested last year, because of carryover funding from the prior fiscal year. The Bureau estimates that such activities can continue for 6-8 weeks under the remaining funds.

Meanwhile, the ACS and other Bureau activities are shut down and many employees have been furloughed, including at the Jeffersonville, Indiana office.

Defending the Confidentiality of Census Data

A coalition of data users urged the Secretary of Commerce to uphold the confidentiality protections for Census data.

In a December 12 letter, the Population Association of America and seven other groups expressed their alarm at revelations that the Department of Justice considered sidestepping essential confidentiality protections for Census survey data.

The reason for concern was “internal Department of Justice (DoJ) documents recently released as part of the New York vs. Department of Commerce case show that senior DOJ officials refused, in response to a question from Congress earlier this year, to confirm a 2010 Office of Legal Counsel ruling that no provisions of the USA Patriot Act supersede Census Act (Title 13 U.S.C.) data confidentiality protections, even for law enforcement or national security purposes. This development alarms our organizations.”

The protection of “census data confidentiality is essential to maintaining the integrity of all census surveys,” the letter continued. “Since the end of World War II, Republican and Democratic Administrations alike have embraced Census Act confidentiality provisions. Any suggestions that the Administration is even considering a reinterpretation of existing law could undermine public trust in the federal government’s ability to secure personal data. As a result, we believe response rates to surveys, particularly the decennial census, will plummet, generating inaccurate and incomplete essential demographic and socioeconomic data about our nation.”

The Population Association of America, American Statistical Association, Consortium of Social Science Associations, Association of Public Data Users, Association of Population Centers, Council of Professional Associations on Federal Statistics, and the Insights Association, urged Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to “reaffirm” his “support for upholding strict confidentiality protections in Title 13 and to reassure the public that census data will be not misused or shared inappropriately with any federal agency. We believe such a public statement of support will help restore the public’s faith and improve chances of achieving an inclusive, successful 2020 Census.”

Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) recently led a comparable letter to Secretary Ross and Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) a similar effort sent to the Department of Justice.

Independent Report Shows Trouble Ahead for Citizenship Question

The National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund has done an extensive analysis of the Providence End-To-End field test for the 2020 Census.

The results show that the citizenship question is likely to depress response rates among communities of color.