Oversight Committee Releases New Internal Census Bureau Document Warning of Risk of “Serious Errors”

Sep 2, 2020
Press Release
Maloney Urges Senate to Pass Bill Extending Deadlines

Washington, D.C. (Sept. 2, 2020)—Today, Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, the Chairwoman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, released a new internal Census Bureau document that warns of the risk of “serious errors” in the data if the Census Bureau is forced to complete its count under the current statutory deadlines.

Chairwoman Maloney conveyed the document to House and Senate leadership in a letter urging the Senate to pass legislation to extend the Census deadlines in the wake of the coronavirus crisis.  

“The Committee has now obtained an internal Census Bureau analysis from August warning that forcing the Census Bureau to complete the 2020 Census without extending the statutory deadlines could significantly degrade its accuracy and completeness,” Maloney wrote.  “Census Bureau leaders did not produce this document to the Committee, but the Committee obtained it from another source.”

2020-09-02 Census New Docs

This internal document appears to be a presentation for Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross on August 3, 2020—the same date the Administration announced that it was cutting short follow-up operations.  It proposes a severely truncated data processing schedule of only 92 days.  In comparison, the past three Decennial Censuses had much longer time periods to process data and deliver apportionment counts—and they were not being conducted during a global pandemic.  The 1990 Census used 140 days, the 2000 Census used 185 days, and the 2010 Census used 147 days.

The document warns that this drastically reduced timeline will force the Census Bureau to curtail or entirely remove key steps developed over the past decade to ensure the completeness and accuracy of the Census: 

  • The document highlights the risks of the “[h]ighly compressed schedule” and warns that data products “will be negatively impacted under this revised plan.” 
  • It cautions that “eliminated activities” will “reduce accuracy,” that the schedule “creates risk for serious errors not being discovered in the data,” and that such errors “may not be fixed—due to lack of time to research and understand the root cause or to re-run and re-review one or multiple state files.” 
  • Although the document says, “we are determining full impacts,” it warns starkly that canceling reviews by state officials will lead to “virtually certain vocal objections.”

The Census Bureau released a public presentation with similar information on August 17, but it omitted these warnings. 

Five months ago, the Trump Administration asked Congress to pass urgent legislation to extend several key Census deadlines as a result of the coronavirus crisis.  The House passed extensions on May 15 as part of the Heroes Act.  Chairwoman Maloney introduced stand-alone legislation on May 27, the Fair and Accurate Census Act, and Senators Kamala Harris and Brian Schatz introduced the Senate companion on June 23.  But the Senate has failed to act, and the Trump Administration suddenly reversed its position, forcing the Census Bureau to drastically curtail operations and severely jeopardizing the 2020 Census. 

Committee staff also held briefings last week with three top Census Bureau officials who all agreed that providing more time would reduce the risk of an inaccurate or incomplete count.  The first official stated, “More time is always a good thing.”  The second official stated, “Anytime you have more time it reduces risk, and that would have reduced our risk.”  When the third official was asked whether he agreed with the first two officials that “ideally more time would be better both for data collection and data processing,” he replied, “Absolutely.”

Although the officials expressed optimism about their ability to mitigate the risks of this truncated schedule, they made clear that they were forced to dramatically compress their operations because Congress has not extended the statutory deadlines. 

The Committee also received a new report issued just last week by the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office also warning about risks with the compressed timing of the Census, including serious concerns regarding the “accuracy of data collected,” the “completeness of data collected,” and “data quality.”

“In light of this new internal document and the additional information we have obtained, it is more urgent than ever that the Senate act,” Chairwoman Maloney wrote.  “Congress has a solemn responsibility under the Constitution to help ensure an accurate and complete count, and there is bipartisan support in the Senate for extending these deadlines.”

Click here to read the new internal Census Bureau document.

Click here to read Chairwoman Maloney’s letter.


116th Congress