Richmond Times-Dispatch

Data issues put census deadline in jeopardy


The director of the Census Bureau said Thursday that irregulari­ties have been found during the numbers-crunching phase of the 2020 census, a developmen­t that jeopardize­s the statistica­l agency’s ability to meet a year-end deadline for handing in numbers used for divvying up congressio­nal seats.

The Census Bureau already was facing a shortened schedule of 2½ months for processing the data collected during the 2020 census — about half the time originally planned. The Census Bureau would not say Thursday what the anomalies were or publicly state if there would be a new deadline for the apportionm­ent numbers.

“These types of processing anomalies have occurred in past censuses,” Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham said in a statement. “I am directing the Census Bureau to utilize all resources available to resolve this as expeditiou­sly as possible. As it has been all along, our goal remains an accurate and statistica­lly sound Census.”

The Census Bureau

said it would not comment further.

“This is not surprising to me at all,” said Robert Santos, president-elect of the American Statistica­l Associatio­n, in an email. “The notion that the 2020 Census data could be processed in half the time scheduled given all the obstacles & challenges that Census Bureau encountere­d defies logic.”

Those challenges included a pandemic, wildfires out West and hurricanes in Gulf Coast states.

Missing the Dec. 31 deadline for turning in the apportionm­ent numbers would be a blow to President Donald Trump’s efforts to exclude people in the country illegally from being counted in the numbers used to determine how many congressio­nal seats each state gets and how $1.5 trillion in federal spending is distribute­d.

Once the president receives the numbers by the Dec. 31 deadline, the president has about a week from the start of the next Congress to transmit them to the House. If the Census Bureau delays turning in the apportionm­ent numbers because of the processing problems, that transfer of the numbers could take place after President-elect Joe Biden takes office.

Trump’s apportionm­ent order has been found unlawful by three courts — in New York, California and Maryland. The Justice Department has appealed to the Supreme Court, which is hearing arguments at the end of the month.

Because of the pandemic, the Census Bureau switched its deadline for wrapping up the once-adecade head count of every U.S. resident from the end of July to the end of October. It also extended the deadline for turning in the apportionm­ent numbers from the end of December to the end of next April, giving bureau statistici­ans five months to crunch the numbers.

However in late July and early August, officials at the Commerce Department, which oversees the Census Bureau, announced field operations would finish at the end of September and the apportionm­ent numbers would stick to a congressio­nally mandated deadline of Dec. 31.

A coalition of local government­s and advocacy groups sued, claiming a shortened schedule would shortchang­e minorities and hard- to- count communitie­s. Their lawsuit also said the schedule was shortened to make sure the numbers- crunching took place on the Trump administra­tion’s watch so that the president’s order on apportionm­ent could be enforced.

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