Cen­sus Bu­reau may end count a month ear­lier than planned, of­fi­cials say

Civil rights groups say ear­lier dead­line would af­fect ac­cu­racy of re­sults

The Washington Post - - POLITICS & THE NATION - BY FREDRICK KUNKLE AND TARA BAHRAMPOUR fredrick.kunkle@wash­post.com tara.bahrampour@wash­post.com

Cen­sus Bu­reau of­fi­cials ap­pear to be mov­ing to­ward wrap­ping up the process of count­ing all in­hab­i­tants of the United States a month ear­lier than planned as a re­sult of di­rec­tion from the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion and Congress’s fail­ure to agree on an ex­ten­sion, cur­rent and former bu­reau of­fi­cials said.

The move comes as Pres­i­dent Trump has in­ten­si­fied efforts to change how cen­sus data is used. A me­moran­dum last week from the pres­i­dent said un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants should not be counted for con­gres­sional ap­por­tion­ment, which le­gal ex­perts say would be un­con­sti­tu­tional. Civil rights groups said the ear­lier dead­line would also lead to an un­der­count of pop­u­la­tions that are of­ten harder to count, in­clud­ing mi­nori­ties, un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants and low-in­come fam­i­lies.

The Cen­sus Bu­reau had planned to con­tinue knock­ing on doors, along with tele­phone and on­line efforts, to ob­tain pop­u­la­tion data un­til Oct. 31 — a date that was moved back ear­lier this year be­cause the coro­n­avirus pan­demic dis­rupted the agency’s field op­er­a­tions.

Now it ap­pears that date could be moved for­ward to Sept. 30.

A Cen­sus Bu­reau of­fi­cial, who spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity to speak can­didly, said the shorter win­dow might al­low the bu­reau to meet its statu­tory dead­line of pro­vid­ing data to Congress and the pres­i­dent by the end of the year. But other bu­reau of­fi­cials have al­ready called into ques­tion whether that’s pos­si­ble be­cause of the pan­demic.

As of Wed­nes­day, only about 63 per­cent of all house­holds had re­sponded, the bu­reau said. Some cen­sus tak­ers have re­port­edly quit, cit­ing con­cerns about con­tract­ing the coro­n­avirus.

“We are past the win­dow of be­ing able to get those counts by those dates at this point,” Al­bert Fon­tenot, as­so­ciate di­rec­tor for de­cen­nial cen­sus pro­grams, told re­porters in July, re­fer­ring to the Dec. 31 dead­line to de­liver cen­sus data to the pres­i­dent.

NPR, cit­ing three peo­ple within the Cen­sus Bu­reau, was the first to re­port that the date to end field­knock­ing ac­tiv­i­ties has been set for Sept. 30. Bu­reau spokesman Michael Cook, who nei­ther con­firmed nor de­nied that field op­er­a­tions would end ear­lier, said the bu­reau is at­tempt­ing to meet its statu­tory obli­ga­tions as they stand now.

“At the end of the day, we are still cur­rently eval­u­at­ing op­er­a­tions to en­able the Cen­sus Bu­reau to pro­vide the data in the most ex­pe­di­tious man­ner,” Cook said. “And when those plans have been fi­nal­ized, we will make an an­nounce­ment. That’s where we are.”

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion ini­tially sought four months more to com­plete the de­cen­nial tally be­cause of com­pli­ca­tions cre­ated by the pan­demic. In March, the bu­reau sus­pended many field ac­tiv­i­ties.

By law, a cen­sus of the U.S. pop­u­la­tion must be de­liv­ered to the pres­i­dent by Dec. 31 of the cen­sus year.

Un­der the ini­tial plan to re­sume and ex­tend data col­lec­tion, the bu­reau re­sumed field ac­tiv­i­ties June 1 and ex­tended the data col­lec­tion pe­riod from mid-au­gust to Oct. 31.

The Demo­cratic-con­trolled House voted to ex­tend the Dec. 31 statu­tory dead­line and set aside an ad­di­tional $400 mil­lion for the cen­sus ef­fort as part of the He­roes Act. A mea­sure in the Repub­li­can­con­trolled Se­nate also pro­posed an ad­di­tional $448 mil­lion but did not in­clude an ex­ten­sion.

Ear­lier this week, con­gres­sional Democrats called the Cen­sus Bu­reau’s di­rec­tor, Steven Dilling­ham, to an emer­gency over­sight hear­ing about Trump’s di­rec­tive to ex­clude un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants from the ap­por­tion­ment of con­gres­sional rep­re­sen­ta­tives. Democrats also raised con­cerns that the ad­min­is­tra­tion had re­versed it­self on ex­tend­ing the count be­cause of the pan­demic, say­ing that hold­ing to the orig­i­nal time­line would lead to an inaccurate and un­fair count.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has repeatedly tried to change the way the de­cen­nial cen­sus is car­ried out and how its data is used.

Com­merce Sec­re­tary Wil­bur Ross an­nounced in 2018 that the cen­sus would ask about cit­i­zen­ship sta­tus, spark­ing mul­ti­ple law­suits. Last sum­mer, the Supreme

Court struck down the ques­tion.

Then, Trump or­dered fed­eral agen­cies to share ad­min­is­tra­tive records data on cit­i­zen­ship with the Com­merce Depart­ment. Civil rights or­ga­ni­za­tions have filed a law­suit say­ing that or­der is dis­crim­i­na­tory and vi­o­lates the Ad­min­is­tra­tive Pro­ce­dure Act, the same law that chal­lengers in­voked against the cit­i­zen­ship ques­tion.

Last month the ad­min­is­tra­tion added two high-level po­lit­i­cal ap­pointees to the Cen­sus Bu­reau, elic­it­ing crit­i­cism from Democrats in the House and Se­nate and rais­ing con­cern that the new hires could at­tempt to in­flu­ence the count. Both ap­pointees re­port­edly have ques­tioned why the bu­reau wants to fo­cus on im­prov­ing re­sponse rates in hard-to-count ar­eas, which in­clude low-in­come and mi­nor­ity com­mu­ni­ties.

Civil rights or­ga­ni­za­tions, which have al­ready ini­ti­ated le­gal chal­lenges to Trump’s di­rec­tive on ex­clud­ing nonci­t­i­zens from ap­por­tion­ment, said shut­ting down field ac­tiv­i­ties in Septem­ber would also dis­tort the count.

“Trump is again seek­ing to de­stroy the in­tegrity and ac­cu­racy of the cen­sus for par­ti­san gain,” Vanita Gupta, pres­i­dent and CEO of the Lead­er­ship Con­fer­ence on Civil and Hu­man Rights, said in a writ­ten state­ment. She also called on Congress to ex­tend the Cen­sus Bu­reau’s re­port­ing dead­line. “If his plan pro­ceeds, the cen­sus won’t be a true por­trait of Amer­ica, and ev­ery state and com­mu­nity will have to live for 10 years un­der the harm of an un­fin­ished count.”

ANDREW HARNIK/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Steven Dilling­ham, di­rec­tor of the Cen­sus Bu­reau, wears a mask as he ar­rives to tes­tify at a House Over­sight Com­mit­tee hear­ing on the 2020 Cen­sus on Wed­nes­day.

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