August 17, 2020

Van Hollen, Shaheen Call for GAO Assessment of Census Count

U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) joined Ranking Member Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and the other Democratic members of the Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies subcommittee, which is charged with funding the Census Bureau and Census operations, in calling for the Government Accountability Office to thoroughly assess and compile a report on the “completeness and quality” of the 2020 Census.

The letter, also signed by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Jack Reed (D-RI), Chris Coons (D-DE), Brian Schatz (D-HI), and Joe Manchin (D-WV)  follows an announcement from the Department of Commerce and Census Bureau leadership that field operations would be delayed to protect public health during COVID-19. However, following reports that President Trump wanted to rush the census count for political gain, this delay was cut short by a month with no official explanation.  

The letter reads in part, “We believe that truncating data collection operations during a global pandemic could cause a massive undercount in historically hard-to-count areas, including Native American, rural, and immigrant communities. We therefore request that, as the data collection operations continue, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) assess the completeness and quality of these activities compared to the original 2020 Decennial Census detailed operational plans and 2010 Decennial Census results, including use of administrative records, proxy interviews and statistical imputation for enumeration and item nonresponse to finish the nonresponse followup (NRFU) operation.”

The letter continues, “As members of the Senate Committee on Appropriations, we have worked to ensure that the Census Bureau has the resources needed to uphold the agency’s mandate to count everyone, once, where they live … We are concerned that the decision to rush data collection and processing operations could risk the accuracy of the Constitutionally-mandated count.” 

The letter goes on to list areas where GAO should monitor for inconsistencies and failures in the 2020 count. The letter can be read in its entirety here.