CJS Chairman Serrano Demands Answers on Census Changes
Washington, D.C. – Congressman José E. Serrano, Chairman of the Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Subcommittee, wrote to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross demanding answers and information on the impact of the Census Bureau’s recently announced change to its 2020 Census operation. This week, the Bureau announced its intent to end its counting efforts earlier than planned, which negatively impacts the accuracy and integrity of the 2020 Census and runs counter to information and advice provided by career employees. Prior to the announcement, the Bureau stopped providing updates to the Subcommittee. The Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Subcommittee funds the Census Bureau, including 2020 Census operations.
“It is completely unacceptable that this Administration is yet again politicizing the Bureau’s operation – one that was a decade in the making,” said Serrano in the letter. “These actions jeopardize our ability to ensure an accurate count and threaten the heart of our democracy. The Constitution is clear: we must count all persons.”
FULL TEXT OF THE LETTER BELOW:
August 5, 2020
The Honorable Wilbur Ross
U.S. Department of Commerce
1401 Constitution Ave NW
Washington, D.C. 20230
Dear Secretary Ross:
I write to express my deepest concerns regarding the Department’s conduct around the 2020 Decennial Census operation.
Since the beginning of the Trump Administration, there have been last minute, flagrant efforts to manipulate the 2020 Decennial Census data collection for partisan purposes. Following the Supreme Court’s June 2019 decision to block the U.S. Census Bureau (“the Bureau”) from asking individuals about citizenship status in the 2020
Census, efforts to sabotage the Bureau from delivering a fair and accurate count have continued. Regardless of these challenges, the Bureau remained on course until the arrival of the novel coronavirus in early 2020.
In April 2020, I participated in a bipartisan, bicameral call with the Administration, in which the Administration requested legislative action that would result in a four-month delay in the completion of the 2020 Decennial Census, as the Bureau would need to delay its operations by three months in response to the coronavirus pandemic to ensure the health and safety of those conducting the enumeration as well as the public. Notably, on the advice of career Census officials, this revised schedule would ensure that the self-response and non-response follow-up (“NRFU”) operations of the 2020 Census would continue until October 31, 2020. While unprecedented, the House of Representatives took immediate action and included this request to shift the decennial statutory deadlines as part of the HEROES Act (H.R. 6800, Sec. 70201). Additionally, the HEROES Act included an additional $400 million to allow the Bureau to address any additional issues that may arise through the remainder of the 2020 Decennial Census operation.
Since that time, the Bureau conducted weekly calls with my Committee staff led by the Associate Director of Decennial Census Programs and the Associate Director of Field Operations, who have repeatedly indicated that the operation would need to continue until October 31, 2020 to ensure an accurate count. Further, they have communicated that it is simply no longer possible for the Bureau to finish its operations and report initial results by the December 31, 2020 deadline. However, since both the arrival of two new political appointees in mid-July and the issuance of the Presidential Memorandum on July 21, 2020, these calls have been abruptly canceled. Further, with less than one week remaining prior to the beginning of the NRFU operation, I am deeply troubled by the August 3, 2020, statement from Director Dillingham that the Bureau is being forced to shorten and expedite its operation and ignoring the recommendations and expertise of its senior career staff. These actions undermine the work of career employees and experts, and seem designed to limit congressional oversight of the 2020 Census.
To better understand where the 2020 Census now stands, I have a few questions I would like answers to before August 11, 2020:
- As coronavirus cases continue to rise across the country, what has prompted the abrupt reversal of the Bureau’s position on Decennial operational deadlines?
- Assuming you receive legislative relief, would you be able to extend the operation to ensure an accurate count?
- Why has the Director of the Census Bureau not been consulted prior to the issuance of Presidential directives relating to the Census?
- Were any Bureau officials consulted prior to the issuance of the Presidential Memorandum on Excluding Illegal Aliens from the Apportionment Base Following the 2020 Census? If so, who?
- Why was a recent, revised $1 billion supplemental appropriations request transmitted initially only to Senate Republicans?
- What percentage of the population had been counted at the conclusion of the 2010 Decennial NRFU operation? What percentage was imputed into the final data product?
- How many fewer households do you estimate will be enumerated as a result of ending NRFU operations on September 30th, compared to the earlier plan of ending NRFU on October 31st?
- What is the timing of the post-enumeration survey to assess data quality?
- How many temporary 2020 Census personnel are on board? What is the current attrition rate for these positions?
- Have changes been made to the NRFU operation as a result of this proposed deadline change? If so, please detail those changes.
- What performance measures will be assessed to distribute awards for maximum performance? How much funding in total is the Bureau assuming it will spend on these awards?
It is completely unacceptable that this Administration is yet again politicizing the Bureau’s operation – one that was a decade in the making. These actions jeopardize our ability to ensure an accurate count and threaten the heart of our democracy. The Constitution is clear: we must count all persons.
José E. Serrano
Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies
Cc: Dr. Steven Dillingham
Director, U.S. Census Bureau
# # #
Congressman José E. Serrano has represented The Bronx in Congress since 1990. He has chaired the Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Subcommittee since 2019
 Under 13 USC 141(b), the Secretary of Commerce is required to complete and report to the President within 9 months after the decennial census date (defined as the first day of April) the tabulation of the total population by State as required for apportionment of the Representatives in Congress among the several States. The legislation requested by the Administration extended that deadline for the 2020 Census to 13 months after the census date of April 1, 2020.