Census Experts Warn Committee of Grave Risks to Accurate and Complete Census
Washington, D.C. (Dec. 3, 2020)—Today, Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, the Chairwoman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, held a remote hearing to examine risks to the accuracy and completeness of the 2020 Census count.
Chairwoman Maloney made the following statement at the close of the hearing:
“The message from today’s witnesses is loud and clear. The 2020 Census is in grave danger. The witnesses warned that if the Trump Administration cuts short the process to fix these problems, the census count risks being inaccurate and incomplete. We called this hearing because the Trump Administration refused to share information with this Committee about these critical data errors. Secretary Ross has one week to produce a complete and unredacted set of the documents we requested last month. If he does not, then he could very well face a subpoena. We hope he complies voluntarily, but I am open to calling Secretary Ross to testify under oath before this Committee if he does not produce the documents we requested.”
Witnesses included Chris Mihm, Managing Director of the Strategic Issues Team at the Government Accountability Office; Robert Santos, President-elect of the Americans Statistical Association; Joe Salvo, Chief Demographer of New York City Department of City; and Jeff Landry, Attorney General of Louisiana.
Census experts testified that data errors identified by career officials at the Census Bureau are serious and must be fixed.
When asked by Chairwoman Maloney whether they would feel confident that census data would be complete and accurate if the Trump Administration forced the Census Bureau to cut short the process for fixing these data errors, Mr. Mihm, Mr. Santos, and Mr. Salvo all stated firmly that they would not.
The witnesses also provided the following information:
Data Errors Discovered by Career Staff Could Impact Apportionment
- Mr. Mihm testified that the errors identified by the Bureau, which impact more than a million Census records, are more than enough to affect apportionment. He explained: “The small numbers are what turn the last congressional seat. In 2000 for example, the last congressional seat was determined on a population difference of less than a thousand people. In 2010 it was less than 16,000 people.”
The Census Bureau Needs Time to Correct These Errors
- Mr. Santos stated: “I encourage that the Census Bureau be given enough time to do the best job that it can and produce the most accurate data it can.”
- Mr. Mihm explained that it is “not just possible but probable” that additional data errors will be discovered, which could take additional time to fix.
Hard-to-Count Communities Are at Risk of an Inaccurate Census
- Mr. Salvo explained that census data errors are not “offset” neighborhood to neighborhood and that inaccurate data at the local level “handicaps us” when making important determinations such as to where to draw a new school district.
- Rep. Ayanna Pressley explained that communities such as those in her district have been “historically marginalized and under-resourced” and are headed for a “tsunami of hurt” if the census is inaccurate. Mr. Santos responded: “Yes, it will continue for 10 years and basically reinforce inequities.”
More Transparency is Needed to Ensure Accuracy and Accountability
- Mr. Mihm stated that, in addition to withholding documents from Congress, the Administration is also withholding documents and information that GAO needs to assess the accuracy of the Census count. He stated that cooperation with GAO’s requests “has gotten more problematic in recent months since the summer.”
- Mr. Santos and Mr. Salvo stated that the Bureau needs to release additional information so that independent experts can assess the quality and accuracy of the 2020 count, especially in light of the many challenges faced during the coronavirus pandemic. Mr. Santos explained that there are “indicators that we know exist and could be easily generated and put out to the public and to researchers, so that we could establish for ourselves the quality of the census counts.”