The Department has reviewed the Office of Inspector General’s management alert criticizing the Census Bureau’s plan to meet the statutory deadline of December 31, 2020 for delivery to the President of the apportionment counts for the 2020 Census (OIG Report). The OIG Report makes no recommendations to improve the compliance plan and it ignores the numerous improvements to the field collection and data processing processes that have been instituted. To the extent the OIG Report implies that the Census Bureau has any alternative but to take all steps necessary to meet its statutory deadline, that inaccurately and irresponsibly implies either the Department of Commerce or Census Bureau can pursue a different course by fiat.
In fact, as of September 20, 95.4 percent of all households have been enumerated. We are undertaking significant efforts in the few states that lag behind to increase their rate of enumeration and complete nonresponse followup on time. However, one of the biggest impediments to completing fieldwork on time is a temporary restraining order (TRO) issued by a judge in the Northern District of California. Because of the TRO restriction on releasing staff, the Census Bureau is unable to execute its strategy of assigning the remaining work to its highest performing enumerators. This strategy would have ensured that the most difficult nonresponse followup cases were handled by the highest performing enumerators, which would have improved both data quality and efficiency. This order disproportionately affects states with the lowest enumeration rates that would benefit most from higher performing enumerators.
The OIG Report’s curious focus on who made the decision to comply with the statutory deadline misses the mark. The statutory deadline is the law, and Census Bureau and Commerce Department employees – like all federal employees, including those in the Office of Inspector General – took an oath to comply with the law. It is dangerous to suggest that compliance with the law is optional in the face of operational risk, and the Department strongly rejects such a suggestion.