Com­merce chief seeks cen­sus cash

Sun Sentinel Palm Beach Edition - - FRONT PAGE - By Lau­ren Rosen­blatt Wash­ing­ton Bu­reau lau­ren.rosen­blatt@la­times.com

Ad­di­tional funds are needed to im­ple­ment and test new tech­nol­ogy in time for 2020, Con­gress is told.

WASH­ING­TON — Com­merce Sec­re­tary Wil­bur Ross on Thurs­day asked Con­gress for an ad­di­tional $3.3 bil­lion to com­plete the 2020 cen­sus, now es­ti­mated to cost about $15.6 bil­lion.

Ross said ad­di­tional funds are needed to im­ple­ment and test new tech­nol­ogy in time for cen­sus prac­tice-runs in 2018, and to ramp up par­tic­i­pa­tion as cybersecurity con­cerns and dis­trust of the govern­ment threaten to dampen al­ready de­clin­ing re­sponse rates.

“The cen­sus is the bedrock upon which we con­struct our sys­tem of demo­cratic rep­re­sen­ta­tion,” Ross said be­fore the House Com­mit­tee on Over­sight and Govern­ment Re­form. “With the changes I have de­tailed and ad­di­tional re­sources re­quested, I am con­fi­dent we will have a full, fair and ac­cu­rate cen­sus.”

But some mem­bers of Con­gress said even Ross’ new es­ti­mate is not enough. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., said the es­ti­mate was a “good start,” but not enough to make up for problems caused by in­suf­fi­cient fund­ing by Con­gress and the White House in past years.

The bu­reau is far be­hind sched­ule on im­ple­ment­ing and test­ing new tech­nolo­gies to save money, im­prove the ef­fi­ciency of data col­lec­tion and make it eas­ier for peo­ple to par­tic­i­pate.

Of the 43 tech­nol­ogy sys­tems the bu­reau is sup­posed to pre­pare for test­ing in 2018, only four have com­pleted de­vel­op­ment and 21 have some func­tion­al­ity. The depart­ment also can­celed two sites for test­ing in West Vir­ginia and Wash­ing­ton state.

Rep. Jody Hice, R-Ga., said it ap­peared of­fi­cials were re­peat­ing the mis­takes they made in 2010, when the bu­reau came close to uti­liz­ing new tech­nol­ogy but had to switch back to pa­per and pen­cil re­port­ing at the last minute. “We get prom­ises that are never de­liv­ered on,” Hice said at the hear­ing.

While it is widely agreed that im­ple­ment­ing new tech­nolo­gies is a good cost­sav­ing mea­sure, some are wor­ried that it will make it even harder to reach com­mu­ni­ties that are al­ready un­likely to re­spond.

Mem­bers of marginal­ized com­mu­ni­ties, in­clud­ing those who are poor, African Amer­i­cans, mem­bers of the LGBT com­mu­nity, im­mi­grants and peo­ple liv­ing in ru­ral ar­eas, among oth­ers, are his­tor­i­cally less likely to par­tic­i­pate in the cen­sus. In the past, the govern­ment has suc­cess­fully in­creased par­tic­i­pa­tion us­ing a mas­sive outreach pro­gram with a fo­cus on ad­ver­tis­ing and com­mu­ni­ca­tion ef­forts, ed­u­ca­tion and part­ner­ships with com­mu­nity or­ga­ni­za­tions.

A lack of fund­ing for th­ese pro­grams or a slow start to outreach ef­forts could lead to un­der­count­ing, par­tic­u­larly of groups that are his­tor­i­cally not well rep­re­sented.

“It’s deeply im­por­tant that the Com­merce Depart­ment and Cen­sus Bu­reau con­sult with stake­hold­ers who are in th­ese com­mu­ni­ties,” said Vanita Gupta, pres­i­dent of The Lead­er­ship Con­fer­ence on Civil and Hu­man Rights. “When your con­stituents are not counted in the cen­sus, they re­main in­vis­i­ble for the next 10 years.”

The NAACP filed a law­suit against the depart­ment this month to com­pel it to re­lease more in­for­ma­tion about its plans for the 2020 cen­sus to en­sure they are com­mit­ted to ad­dress­ing un­der­count­ing of th­ese par­tic­u­lar com­mu­ni­ties.

Ross said the bu­reau has al­lo­cated a to­tal of $748 mil­lion to outreach ef­forts, in­clud­ing $500 mil­lion for com­mu­ni­ca­tions cam­paigns and $248 mil­lion for ef­forts to part­ner with or­ga­ni­za­tions to in­crease the fo­cus on hard to reach com­mu­ni­ties. This in­cludes “foot sol­diers clog­ging around, ring­ing door­bells” to en­cour­age par­tic­i­pa­tion, Ross said.

“We’re spend­ing an enor­mous amount per house­hold on (re­spon­dents) that are dif­fi­cult to reach, and that’s quite a de­lib­er­ate thing,” he said.

As of now, the bu­reau is part­ner­ing with 40 or­ga­ni­za­tions but hopes to reach about 800 by the time of the cen­sus.

In May, John Thomp­son re­signed as di­rec­tor of the Cen­sus Bu­reau. Thomp­son said in a state­ment he did so to pur­sue op­por­tu­ni­ties in the pri­vate sec­tor, but Rep. Matt Cartwright, D-Pa., said he saw this as a red flag of problems in the bu­reau.

The bu­reau still does not have a di­rec­tor or deputy di­rec­tor although Ross said Tues­day they were re­cruit­ing can­di­dates.

J. SCOTT AP­PLE­WHITE/AP

Com­merce Sec­re­tary Wil­bur Ross ap­pears be­fore the House Com­mit­tee on Over­sight and Govern­ment Re­form to dis­cuss pre­par­ing for the 2020 Cen­sus. Of the 43 tech­nol­ogy sys­tems the bu­reau is sup­posed to pre­pare for test­ing in 2018, only four have com­pleted de­vel­op­ment and 21 have some func­tion­al­ity.

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