Commerce Department Inspector General Worried About Resources for 2030 Census

The U.S. Commerce Department’s Office of Inspector General’s annual report on “management and performance challenges facing” the Department already includes worries about funding for the 2030 Census.

The report warns that that a strong framework needs to be established with “[a]dequate [r]esources to [s]upport the 2030 Census [p]lanning [e]fforts and [e]nhance [o]verall [s]urvey [q]uality.”

“Fiscal year 2023 marks the last FY of the 2020 Census funding lifecycle and the second one for the 2030 Census lifecycle,” reminds the report, which identifies four priority concerns for the Census Bureau:

  1. “Ensuring the timely delivery of 2020 Census studies and the timely completion of the 2020 Post-Census Group Quarters Review needed to inform 2030 Census planning.”
  2. “Ensuring information from the Post-Enumeration Survey (PES) is used to develop a strategy for obtaining a more accurate count of certain demographic groups and state populations for the 2030 Census.”
  3. “Enhancing the accuracy and reliability of the Census Bureau’s address list.”
  4. “Ensuring data products provide timely, reliable, and quality data to stakeholders.”

Stakeholders can review pages 34-38 of the report for more details. (Hat tip to Hansi Lo Wang.)

U.S. House of Representatives Passes Ensuring A Fair and Accurate Census Act

On September 15, 2022, The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill, HR 8326, Ensuring a Fair and Accurate Census Act, by a vote of 220-208. The bill, which was sponsored by Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Chairwoman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, contains provisions designed to enhance the U.S. Census Bureau’s independence and strengthen its operations. The legislation was informed in part by the results of an investigation that the Committee conducted regarding the conduct of the 2020 Census.

The Census Project covered the committee markup stage in July.

Specifically, the legislation would:

  • Ensure that any question added to a decennial census is researched and tested according established statistical procedures, reviewed by the Government Accountability Office, and shared with Congress in advance. 
     
  • Empower the Census Director to make key decisions about the census, ensure a career expert serves as deputy director, and limit the number of political appointees at the Bureau to no more than 4 positions.  
           
  • Reauthorize existing census advisory committees (Census Scientific Advisory Committee and National Advisory Committee on Racial, Ethnic and Other Populations) and create new advisory entities (2030 Census Advisory Committee and Committee on Statistical Quality Standards).
     
  • Enhance the transparency of the agency’s annual budget process and allow the Director to communicate directly with policymakers regarding the agency’s budgetary needs and the operational status of each decennial census.

During consideration on the House floor, two amendments were offered. The first “en bloc” amendment, which was offered by Congressman Danny Davis (D-IL), contained proposals offered by Congresswoman Shelia Jackson Lee (D-TX) and Congressman Ed Case (D-HI). The amendment, which was approved by a vote of 223-211, would direct the Bureau to: 1) appoint a career official responsible for improving the equity and fairness of the census for all race and ethnic groups and 2) issue a report on how the agency will engage with local partners and governments. The House rejected another amendment offered by Congressman Jody Hice (R-GA) which proposed striking language in the bill that would only allow for-cause removal of the Census Director and would revise details regarding the Deputy Director position.

A similar bill has not been introduced yet in the U.S. Senate. Currently, there are no plans for H.R. 8236 to be considered on the Senate floor.

Prior to the House debate, the White House issued an official Statement of Administration Policy in which it expressed support for the bill. In its statement, the White House also said it “looks forward to working with the Congress to ensure its provisions do not circumvent OMB’s [Office of Management and Budget] role in formulating the President’s budget request and to avoid impinging on the President’s authority over Executive Branch agencies.”

The Oversight and Reform Committee posted the bill text and a fact sheet.

New Report Recommends Census Reforms

Noting that the “bureaucracy and law that govern the census have not been systemically altered in decades,” the Brennan Center for Justice has offered “a blueprint for reform­ing the law and policy of the decennial population count… to make future censuses more accurate, equitable, and legitimate.”

The report, “Improving the Census,” includes 19 proposals that the Center says “will free the Census Bureau from recurring problems that it has never squarely addressed and set it up to respond to future problems in a more flexible, effective, and democratically responsive way,” including:

  1. “Establish the Census Bureau as its own executive agency”;
  2. “Limit the number of political appointees”;
  3. “Require political appointees to publicly disclose communications with the White House”;
  4. “Remove the president from the congressional apportionment process”;
  5. “Bar untimely and untested additions to the census questionnaire”;
  6. “Restructure congressional oversight of the census”;
  7. “Rigorously pursue oversight”;
  8. “Revoke statutory limits on data collection methods”;
  9. “Permit the director to extend the reporting deadlines for apportionment and redistricting data in emergencies”;
  10. “Allow the bureau more freedom to collect data from educational institutions”;
  11. “Facilitate changes to the census’s race and ethnicity questions”;
  12. “Facilitate a sexual orientation and gender identity question”;
  13. “Convene a National Academies panel to evaluate additional operational changes”;
  14. “Change the residence rule”;
  15. “Hold the Census Bureau and other agencies accountable for collecting home address data”;
  16. Clarify the superseding effect of Title 13’s confidentiality provisions”;
  17. “Codify bureau policy requiring specialized review of aggregate data on sensitive populations”;
  18. “Make the Census Bureau’s discretionary spending limits flexible”; and
  19. “Remove obsolete portions of the Census Act.”

How the Census Bureau can help promote accurate research using 2020 Census data

A new paper proposes to help “take into account the planned presence of well-specified, well-justified noise in data releases based on the 2020 Decennial Census” thanks to disclosure avoidance. Erica Groshen and Daniel Goroff reviewed “strategies, trade-offs, and rationales associated with processing and releasing the decennial results” and offer recommendations. They specifically urge the Census Bureau to:

in addition to publishing official tables, the Census Bureau also make either the noisy measurements file (NMF) or unbiased estimates of released table entries available for research purposes. To create official counts, the Census Bureau applies processes to restore face validity to privacy-protected counts (that is, they eliminate disturbing features such as negative and fractional counts). These processes also introduce statistical bias and intractable distortions that researchers may wish to avoid whenever possible. By contrast, the NMF entries do not suffer from the statistical ills added by restoring face validity, and can be easily interpreted by trained analysts. Our other recommendations address critical needs for input to Census Bureau decisions from researchers, for development of suitable statistical tools that work with privacy-protected data, for expanded options with regard to microdata, and for steps to improve the accuracy of decennial census data overall.

Census Bureau Requests Input Regarding 2030 Census Preparations

On August 17, the Census Bureau issued a Federal Register notice seeking comments on the 2030 Census. Specifically, the Bureau is seeking input regarding five major topics:

  • Reaching and Motivating Everyone to Respond to the Census
  • Technology
  • New Data Sources
  • How We Contact Respondents
  • Respondent Support

Comments are due November 15.

In a blog published, September 7, Director Robert Santos said: “I am so excited to be part of the decade-long journey working toward the 2030 Census. I can’t thank you enough for coming along and helping us write the story of the 2030 Census – from the design to its future execution. This is deeply important work. It’s a labor of love, and I’m proud that we are formally engaging the public this early in the process. I appreciate your support and enthusiasm and look forward to receiving your ideas.”

More information is available at: We welcome your ideas for a better 2030 Census!

The Significance of Census and ACS Data to Florida

A new report from Florida TaxWatch looks at the significance of census and American Community Survey (ACS) data to the people of Florida.

The report contends that, “Florida’s taxpayers will likely receive less than their fair share of services and supports over the coming years, relative to residents in other states,” thanks to imperfect census and ACS data.

“Even though the next decennial Census is eight years away, the preparation to accomplish an accurate count in 2030 begins today. The state of Florida has a prime opportunity to learn from the challenges presented in the 2020 Census and take proactive steps to raise awareness, engage business and community leaders, and mobilize data-driven strategies. In addition to pursuing decennial Census success, the state must take steps to ensure more immediate ACS success, conveying the importance of intermediate data releases for understanding more nuanced population characteristics and catalyzing positive community outcomes.”

Senate Holds Field Hearing to Examine 2020 Census and Impact on City of Detroit

On July 25, U.S. Senator Gary Peters (D-MI), Chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, convened a field hearing, “Reviewing the 2022 Census: Local Perspectives in Michigan.” The purpose of the hearing was to examine the impact of the 2020 Census on local communities and, more specifically, to discuss a challenge that the City of Detroit has filed with the U.S. Census Bureau regarding its enumeration.

The witnesses were:  

The Honorable Michael E. Duggan, Mayor, City of Detroit

Jeffrey Morenoff, Professor of Public Policy and Sociology, University of Michigan

N. Charles Anderson, President and CEO, Urban League of Detroit and Southeastern Michigan Jane Garcia, Vice Chair, Latin Americans for Social and Economic Development

Maha Freij, President and CEO, Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services

Kelley Kuhn, President and CEO, Michigan Nonprofit Association

Mary Jo Hoeksema, The Census Project Co-Director and Director of Government and Public Affairs, Population Association of America/Association of Population Centers, did a blog on the hearing focusing on the testimony that her colleague, Dr. Jeffrey Morenoff, delivered.  

Senate Releases Census Funding Legislation for FY 2023

While the Senate will not move appropriations legislation through normal order for Fiscal Year (FY) 2023, the Senate Appropriations Committee just released its proposed legislation and committee reports for each funding bill, including the Commerce Justice Science (CJS) Appropriations legislation that fund the Census Bureau.

The Senate CJS bill would provide $1.485 billion for the Bureau (including $330 million for Current Surveys and Programs and $1.115 million for Periodic Census and Programs), which is:

The bill provides $3.556 million within the Census Bureau’s funding line to support  the Commerce Department’s Office of the Inspector General “for activities associated with carrying out investigations and audits” of the Census Bureau.

Lots of interesting Census Bureau nuggets can also be found within the Senate CJS committee report.

  • Budget account reorganization: The committee again rejected the Bureau’s “proposal to merge Census’s Current Surveys and Programs account with the Periodic Censuses and Programs account to create a new Censuses and Survey account.”
  • High Frequency Data Program: The committee provided “no less than the fiscal year 2022 enacted level for the High Frequency Data Program.”
  • Population Estimate Challenge Program: Recognizing “that pandemic-related disruptions to 2020 Census operations may have resulted in significant undercounts in some localities” and since “census counts are the basis for annual population estimates that are used to distribute Federal funding resources through funding formulas, those estimates should be as accurate as possible,” the committee urged the Bureau, in “conducting the Population Estimates Challenge Program,” to “consider more flexible methodologies and broader use of administrative data to ensure that general-purpose governmental units have meaningful opportunities to present data to dispute the accuracy of the estimates.”
  • Census Data Products: The committee report “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.”
  • Disclosure Avoidance: The committee said that the Census 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 [ACS].”
  • Cybersecurity and Disinformation: “The Committee directs the Census Bureau to coordinate with the Department of Homeland Security, and other relevant agencies, 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. The Bureau should also coordinate with State and local stakeholders and private industry, as appropriate.”
  • Utilizing Libraries and Community Partners for Census Surveys: “The Committee encourages the Census Bureau to continue its partnership with public libraries and other community technology centers to maximize the response to the ACS 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: The committee report “supports the ACS and directs the Bureau to continue using the ACS as a testbed for innovative survey and data processing techniques that can be used across the Bureau. The Committee notes that the ACS 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. These data are 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 Committee further expects the Bureau to evaluate the current questions to ensure that this survey captures not only the required statutory data needed to be collected, but also captures data that reflects the complex nature of the Nation’s population. To the greatest extent practicable, the ACS should reduce the number of questions included in the survey and ensure steps are being taken to conduct the ACS as efficiently and unobtrusively as possible.”
  • Race and Ethnicity Data Accuracy: “The Committee continues to be interested in ensuring the publication of accurate data on race and ethnicity across surveys. The Bureau should work with the Office of Management and Budget to facilitate appropriate, scientifically-guided revisions to those standards that will allow the Bureau to modernize its collection of race and ethnicity data based on research and testing results, as soon as practicable. The Bureau is directed to provide a 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… its surveys, including the ACS and the 2030 Census, and on whether the Bureau believes that additional testing is necessary.”
  • Ask U.S. Panel Survey: “The Committee is concerned about the lack of transparency related to the Census Bureau’s plans for implementation of the Ask U.S. Panel Survey, particularly given the lack of congressional authorization and the expanding scope of the project since it was initially announced. The Bureau is directed to provide a report to the Committee, no later than 60 days following enactment of this act, on the Ask U.S. Panel Survey’s methodology, data collection processes, implementation, incurred and projected costs, and procurement strategy.”

House appropriators want to bring the CJS bill to the floor of the House in August or September, but a larger omnibus funding bill is the most likely outcome, post-election.

Ensuring a Fair and Accurate Census Act (H.R. 8326) Approved by House Committee in Response to Investigation of Citizenship Question

The House Oversight & Reform Committee passed the Ensuring a Fair and Accurate Census Act (H.R. 8326) on July 20, 2022 by a 25 – 17 vote. The legislation aims to “enhance the independence and transparency of the Census Bureau” and “safeguard [it] from undue influence from political parties.”

The bill’s sponsor, Committee Chair Carolyn Maloney (D-NY-12), described the bill as a response to a memo released that same day about the investigation into the Trump Administration’s attempt to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census. As the memo concluded, the committee’s investigation “exposed how a group of political appointees sought to use the census to advance an ideological agenda and potentially exclude non-citizens from the apportionment count. Despite experts, statisticians, and stakeholders warning of the threats that a citizenship question could pose to the census, Trump Administration officials pressed forward until the Supreme Court ruled their effort was illegal.”

By contrast, Committee Ranking Member James Comer (R-KY-01) contended that the Act would “make it easier for the Census Bureau to conduct an unfair and inaccurate census” by “eliminating nearly all accountability for the Census Bureau” and reducing the Bureau’s flexibility to adapt in future censuses. Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ-05) also criticized the bill, saying that it “more completely delegates Census Bureau responsibility to bureaucracy” instead of Congress. Rep. Jody Hice (R-GA-10) concurred, worrying that the bill would make the census director “unremovable.” He said that, “when the federal bureaucracy is unaccountable, that is when it most threatens to undertake rogue activity… precisely what we are looking at right now as it relates to the census.”

The bill avoids making the Census Bureau an independent agency, something that Chair Maloney told NPR that she knows “both Republican and Democratic administrations” have opposed, but she noted that it provides “strict guidelines, rules, regulations” while keeping the bureau within the Department of Commerce.

During markup, the committee adopted an amendment in the nature of a substitute by voice vote, and rejected amendments (with votes of 18 – 25) from:

  • Rep. Hice that would have deleted the bill’s provisions on causes for removing the director, the director’s duties, the reporting structure, the advisory committees, the requirement that only the director could make changes to the decennial census, and replacement of the director; and
  • Rep. Biggs that would have added a citizenship question to the 2030 Census and every decennial thereafter, as well as changed apportionment to include only citizens.

Much of the debate dealt with arguments over the legality of the citizenship question, interpretations of the Supreme Court case that rejected the citizenship question, the legality of whether to count non-citizens.

Census budget provisions of H.R. 8326

The bill would require the Commerce Secretary to include in the Department’s budget request “the estimated costs of carrying out the duties of the Bureau during the five-year period beginning on the fiscal year covered by such request,” starting in Fiscal Year (FY) 2027, “and each fiscal year thereafter.” Those estimates would also need to be delivered to relevant Congressional committees.

When the President submits the Administration’s budget proposal in the final five years of a decennial census cycle, the director of the Census Bureau would be required to “transmit a report describing any changes to the applicable lifecycle estimate”, including:

  • (A) “The basis for any such changes.”
  • (B) “Projected impacts on response rates, staffing requirements, or costs throughout the lifecycle.”
  • (C) “An explanation of any differences in budgetary resources between the amount requested in the President’s annual budget request and the lifecycle cost estimate, as updated by this paragraph.”

Census personnel and leadership

The Census Bureau Director would be allowed to be removed “only for inefficiency, neglect of duty, or malfeasance in office.”

The director would be specifically tasked with performing “such duties as may be imposed upon the Director by law, regulations, or orders of” the Commerce Secretary and would “report directly to the Deputy Secretary of Commerce.”

Per the Act, any “operational, statistical, or technical decision for any decennial census of population” could only be made by the director.

H.R. 8326 would allow for a single deputy director, appointed by the director to a “career reserved position” and “selected from among any career appointee… at any agency.” The deputy would be required to “possess knowledge of, or experience in, the work of the Bureau, and possess experience in relevant fields, including demography, economics, survey methodology, statistics, or data science.”

The deputy would “perform such functions as the Director shall designate” and serve as acting director of the Bureau in case of “any absence or disability” of the director. “In the event of a vacancy in the office of Director, or when the Director is absent or unable to serve,” the deputy would only “act as Director until a Director is appointed.” Should no individual serving as deputy be available, “the highest level career employee of the Bureau” would instead serve as acting director “until a Deputy Director or Director is appointed.”

H.R. 8326 would also cap the Census Bureau at no more than 3 political appointees, including the director – everyone else would need to be career.

The Act would codify the existing Census Scientific Advisory Committee and the National Advisory Committee on Racial, Ethnic, and Other Populations. The bill would also establish a new 2030 Census Advisory Committee “substantially similar to the 2010 Census Advisory Committee, consisting of up to 20 member organizations to address policy, research, and technical issues related to the design and implementation of the 2030 decennial census and the American Community Survey” and a new Committee on Statistical Quality Standards, “composed of five members to review and provide recommendations on the statistical quality standards of the Bureau that guide the production and release of all Bureau decennial census products.”

Adding questions to the census

Current law, 13 U.S. Code § 141(f), requires the Commerce Secretary, for each decennial and mid-decade census, to submit to the relevant Congressional committees:

  • (1) “not later than 3 years before the appropriate census date, a report containing the Secretary’s determination of the subjects proposed to be included, and the types of information to be compiled, in such census”;
  • (2) “not later than 2 years before the appropriate census date, a report containing the Secretary’s determination of the questions proposed to be included in such census”; and
  • (3) “after submission of a report under paragraph (1) or (2) of this subsection and before the appropriate census date, if the Secretary finds new circumstances exist which necessitate that the subjects, types of information, or questions contained in reports so submitted be modified, a report containing the Secretary’s determination of the subjects, types of information, or questions as proposed to be modified.”

Starting with the 2030 Census, the Ensuring a Fair and Accurate Census Act would prohibit the inclusion of “any subject, type of information, or question that was not submitted to Congress in accordance with” that subsection.

The bill would require biennial reports to congress (also posted on the Bureau website), “no later than April 1 of the calendar year beginning after the date of enactment” that:

  • (i) “describes each component of the operational plan for the subsequent decennial census of population”; and
  • (ii) “includes a detailed statement on the status of all research, testing, and operations that are part of the Bureau’s com4 prehensive plan for the decennial census.”

Along with the reports, the Commerce Secretary would need to deliver “a certification stating that any question that has not appeared on the previous two decennial censuses has been researched, studied, and tested according to established statistical policies and procedures.”

Within six months of the Secretary’s certification, GAO would need to review it and “and submit a report to Congress on whether the questions to be included in the census have been researched, studied, and tested according to established statistical policies and procedures.”

Next steps

The House could consider the Ensuring a Fair and Accurate Census Act (H.R. 8326) on the floor before the end of the year. There is no Senate companion.

NCSL Hosting Discussion with Census Bureau on Redistricting Data

NCSL and the Census Bureau’s Redistricting and Voting Rights Data Office will host a discussion with census data users and others about the 2030 Redistricting Data Program. The conversation will focus on projects that make up the program and its proposed schedule. Likely topics may include prisoner enumeration, a possible single race and ethnicity question, and a possible Middle Eastern or North African race category. Mostly, though, the bureau wants to hear what’s on the minds of data users.

This free event is open to everyone and will be held on Thursday, August 4, 2022 (9-11 a.m. MT), following NCSL’s Legislative Summit, at the Colorado Convention Center (Room 104).