Washington (CNN)Census Bureau officials warned the Trump administration that compressing the 2020 census due to the coronavirus pandemic “creates risk for serious errors” in the ultimate data.
The internal document released Wednesday by the Democratic-led House Oversight Committee “appears to be a presentation for Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross,” the committee said, and is dated the same day Ross announced a truncated timeline for the national survey and the complicated process of tallying the figures. It appears to present at least the second time that Ross, who critics charge has tried to sway the census to favor Republican electoral prospects for the next decade, decided to manage the census in a way the bureau’s own experts warned would produce a less accurate count.
The first was the decision to pose a citizenship question, which the bureau warned him would be “very costly, harms the quality of the census count, and would use substantially less accurate citizenship data than are available from administrative sources.” The administration ultimately backed off asking that question after a fight that escalated to the Supreme Court.The newly released document presents to Ross an approach — “in response to your request” — for a “highly compressed schedule for 2020 Census data processing and review of data products.” The modifications to the review process, the document says, would eliminate or change several steps designed to check the data for accuracy before it is made public and used to divide up congressional representation. Read MoreThe truncated schedule also puts some census field workers who knock on doors at risk during the pandemic. It said that to complete counting by September 30, the bureau “will have to deploy staff regardless of the COVID-19 risk in those areas.””All of these activities represent abbreviated processes or eliminated activities that will reduce accuracy,” the document concludes. CNN has reached out to the Census Bureau for comment on the document. The Government Accountability Office recently warned that cutting short the time for counting puts the census at risk for miscounting the population. Field work for the 2020 census was paused this spring when the pandemic hit, and the Trump administration announced it would extend the window for responses through October. Lawmakers from both parties supported the change. But on August 3, Ross abruptly announced that the administration no longer planned to extend the window and would conclude counting on September 30. Census Director Steven Dillingham told Congress on July 29 — less than a week before the document’s date and Ross’ decision — that he was not part of the administration’s consideration about whether and how to extend the timeline.
“Congressman, my understanding is there were discussions but that wasn’t at my level,” he testified. “And so that is my understanding, that there have been some discussions and consideration of that and has been also reported in the news. But that’s not something I’d personally participate in.” The revised timeline is being challenged in court, and a government attorney told a federal judge in California last week that there is no set of formal records documenting the change. The government is set to explain its arguments against extending the timeline in a legal filing on Thursday.