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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce recently went to bat for funding for the Census Bureau. As part of a letter in support of various provisions in the CJS Appropriations legislation, arguing in support of the Biden Administration’s request:
“This legislation includes $1.49 billion for the Census Bureau to ensure that 2020 decennial census products are made available and American Community Survey (ACS) programs can move forward. The 2020 decennial census was successful because of the uninterrupted funding and commitment from government leaders in the face of the pandemic. Unreliable census data would have harmful effects on businesses and the American economy. Businesses planning on growing and expanding into new markets would be faced with making decisions on where to invest based on poor data.“
July 22, 2021: The task force expects to release the state-level report in the next two to three weeks. It will provide advance notice of the release on the Census Quality Indicators updates page and to those signed up to receive updates. While the Census Bureau has provided all the requested data, the review of the data and writing of the report are still underway.
State of Play, a program on Black News Channel, spoke with the Census Project to learn more about the importance of the census.
Sharon Pratt noted that, “the business community is involved because there are data points… that have an impact on business decisions,” and asked for some examples that might matter to consumers.
Census Project Co-Director Howard Fienberg explained that, for the average consumer, census data “will determine where a business is going to set up its next business, or if they’re going to keep a business in a specific area,” whether in an urban core of a city or “some small town in a remote area of the country.” The information helps a business “determine if there is a need for a new OB/GYN in this area; what’s the baby boom looking like and current trends in marriage. It is determining whether or not you’re going to get a new Walmart in some rural area that’s been dying for a good opportunity. For urban areas, it is going to be the siting of a shopping center; is there a particular need for certain kinds of stores and is there a workforce that’s willing to work there and that brings the skillset to make it work, in addition to demand from consumers?”
Census data, from the perspective of a business and consumer, “comes down to identifying the unmet needs both within the workforce and the unmet needs and wants of consumers,” Fienberg commented.
Karen A. Tramantano asked, “if we didn’t get [the 2020 Census] right, and right now we’re functioning on 2010 data, are we stuck for the next 10 years?”
Fienberg responded that there is “a lot of work being done right now, both within the Census Bureau and among a variety of outside statistical expert organizations to try to evaluate the quality of that data, so we don’t really know where we are in terms of how good or how bad it might be.”
However, he warned that “any small discrepancies in accuracy can have a large impact over the course of the whole decade. To an individual household, that could be the difference in the place that you live getting the correct amount of funding for the VA, transportation, all manner of social welfare programs, education funding, healthcare funding… everything comes back to census data, so it does have an impact across the decade on the lives of ordinary people.”
The House Appropriations Committee approved the Commerce Justice Science (CJS) appropriations legislation on July 15, 2021, meeting the Biden Administration’s request for $1,442,401,000 for the Census Bureau. It includes $309,865,000 for Current Surveys and Programs ($21,462,000 above the FY 2021 enacted amount) and $1,132,537,000 for Periodic Censuses and Programs ($314,296,000 above the FY 2021 enacted level).
“While we’re appreciative the Administration and the House Appropriations Committee provided an increase in funding from FY 2021, when at this point in the decennial census cycle we would ordinarily see a decrease, the Census Project remains committed to a higher level of funding for essential census programs,” said Census Project Co-Director Howard Fienberg in a press release urging the Senate to properly support Census Bureau modernization.
The committee report provides further details on various policy and funding fronts:
Appropriations accounts will remain the same, for now: The Committee rejects “the new appropriations account structure proposed by the Administration”, but “welcomes continued dialogue with the Department on this effort.”
Prioritize cyber protections for internal census systems: While the Committee “applauds the efforts that led the Census Bureau to successfully and securely execute its first digital-age decennial census, including its work with the Cybersecurity Infrastructure Security Agency”, the report expresses concerns about “vulnerabilities that could expose personal census data, thereby undermining the faith in census statistics which are vital to democratic institutions. These vulnerabilities include both system infrastructure weaknesses that could allow motivated cyberhackers to infiltrate Census Bureau servers, as well as reidentification attacks that threaten the confidentiality of personal census data.” The report directs the Bureau “to prioritize cyber protections for internal systems”.
Consult stakeholders regarding the application of disclosure avoidance methods (including differential privacy): The Committee Report lays out expectations for “high standards of disclosure avoidance for publicly accessible data, while also ensuring the availability of data products that are useful and sufficiently accurate to inform policy decisions and resource allocations,” as well as regular consultations with Census Bureau “stakeholders, including members of its advisory committees, regarding the application of disclosure avoidance methods, and to keep the Committee updated on these efforts.”
Develop mobile, multilingual, and user-friendly access to census data products: The Committee requires “a report no later than 180 days after enactment of this Act” from the Census Bureau about “its expansion efforts toward mobile, multilingual, and user-friendly access to census data products, including a cost-benefit analysis of expanding the accessibility of this data to a smartphone application.”
Begin research or pilot development on proxy data collection of sexual orientation and gender identity questions: The Committee “urges the Census Bureau to begin research or pilot development on proxy data collection” of sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) “questions in current surveys, in line with standard administrative rules and procedures for adding or modifying existing survey content, and to keep the Committee apprised of these efforts.”
Race and ethnicity data collection and reporting improvements: The Committee Report urges the Census Bureau and Office of Management and Budget (OMB) “to facilitate appropriate, scientifically-guided revisions” to federal statistical standards governing collection and reporting of race and ethnicity data “that will allow the Bureau to modernize its collection of race and ethnicity data, including the addition of a Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) ethnicity category and a combined race and Hispanic origin question, as soon as practicable.” The Bureau also would need to “report to the Committee, no later than 180 days after enactment of this Act, on its plan for implementing updated race and ethnicity questions for the 2030 Census and the American Community Survey, including whether the Census Bureau believes that additional testing will be necessary.”
High Frequency Data Program and census pulse surveys: The provided appropriations for Current Surveys and Programs includes “the requested $10,000,000 for a new High Frequency Data Program that builds upon the success of the ‘pulse’ surveys, which the Census Bureau conducted in response to the COVID–19 pandemic to measure the impacts to small businesses and households. The Census Bureau is directed to keep the Committee updated on new initiatives the Census Bureau will explore under this program to produce timelier and more relevant economic and demographic statistics.”
Use existing resources to increase theSurvey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) response rate: The Report reduces the SIPP appropriation by $1 million, as requested by the Administration, because that money was “a one-time expense related to a study funded in fiscal year 2021 to evaluate cost effective collection methods or alternative sources of comparable data on the economic well-being of Americans,” but directs the Bureau to “update the Committee on the findings of this study and encourages the Census Bureau to utilize all available resources to support an increase to the SIPP response rate.”
The House CJS Appropriations bill will likely be voted on the House floor as part of a “minibus” combination of funding bills.