In New Letter, Schumer And Pelosi Say Trump Administration’s Efforts To Rush Census Count Despite Expert Warnings Are Politically Motivated And Threaten Census Accuracy, Call For Full Disclosure Of Decision-Making Process

September 4, 2020

Census Bureau Report Highlighted Risks Of Administration’s ‘[H]ighly Compressed Schedule,’ Even Warned Data Products ‘Will Be Negatively Impacted Under This Revised Plan.’

Washington, D.C.—Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) today sent a letter to Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross and Director of the U.S. Census Bureau Steven Dillingham, condemning the Trump administration’s sudden reversal of earlier plans to delay Census operations during the coronavirus pandemic, a move that threatens the completeness and accuracy of the 2020 Census. Leader Schumer and Speaker Pelosi are requesting detailed information about the administration’s decision-making process, as well as a series of key documents and communications related to the decision to cut off the census count ahead of schedule.

In the letter, Leader Schumer and Speaker Pelosi expose a disturbing web of harmful policy changes and reversals, which were made despite warnings from experts within the Census Bureau. On April 13th 2020, the Commerce Department and the Census Bureau issued a joint statement announcing that the Bureau would delay Census operations due to the coronavirus pandemic. But on July 29th, 2020, in a sudden reversal, the Census Bureau changed the end date of the Census on its website—from “October 31, 2020” to “as soon as possible, as it strives to comply with the law and statutory deadlines”—without notification or justification to Congress or the public. On August 3rd, 2020, after a request from Secretary Ross, the Census Bureau announced publicly that it would move the end date of the Census field operations to September 30th in order to deliver apportionment data by December 31st. Alarmingly, an internal Census Bureau presentation dated the same day—and not provided to Congress by the Administration—outlined the risks of the “[h]ighly compressed schedule” and warned that data products “will be negatively impacted under this revised plan.”

Leader Schumer and Speaker Pelosi write that on August 5th, during negotiations for the 4th Coronavirus relief bill, White House Chief of Staff Meadows dismissed a letter signed by four former Census directors that warned the administration’s deadline changes could compromise Census accuracy, claiming that, “the Democrats just want to control the apportionment and we aren’t going to let them do that.” In doing so, Mr. Meadows exposed the unspoken intentions of President Trump and his administration—to intervene in and control the apportionment process while he is in office, rather than ensuring an accurate count for the American people, as required by the Constitution.

Leader Schumer and Speaker Pelosi are therefore requesting the Trump administration turn over detailed information about the decision to reverse plans and cut off Census operations ahead of schedule, as well as a series of key documents and communications, no later than September 17th, 2020.

Leader Schumer and Speaker Pelosi’s letter to can be found here and below:

September 4, 2020

The Honorable Wilbur Ross

Secretary of Commerce

U.S. Department of Commerce

1401 Constitution Avenue N.W.

Washington, DC 20230

The Honorable Steven Dillingham

Director

U.S. Census Bureau

4600 Silver Hill Road

Washington, DC 20233

Dear Secretary Ross and Director Dillingham:

We write to follow up on our recent discussions with White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, the Administration’s lead negotiators on coronavirus relief legislation, regarding the 2020 Census.

As you know, on April 13, 2020, the Commerce Department and the Census Bureau issued a joint statement announcing that the Census Bureau was delaying in part and extending in part Census operations and would now complete its work on October 31, 2020, due to the coronavirus pandemic. It also stated that the Bureau needed a statutory extension of the deadline to deliver the apportionment data to the Secretary of Commerce and the President and that the statutory delays were necessary “to ensure the completeness and accuracy of the 2020 Census.”[1] 

During the course of our negotiations on the 4th Coronavirus bill, the Administration suddenly reversed course. On July 29, 2020, Director Dillingham refused to state in testimony before the House whether he continued to support the necessary deadline extension, claiming that he was “not party” to the negotiations between the Administration and Congress. The same day, the Bureau changed the end date of the Census on its website—from “October 31, 2020” to “as soon as possible, as it strives to comply with the law and statutory deadlines”—without notification or justification to Congress.[2] 

On that same day, Director Dillingham and Census Bureau Deputy Director Ron Jarmin were told, on a phone call with Deputy Secretary of Commerce Karen Dunn Kelley, that Secretary Ross wanted them to create a new plan to deliver the apportionment count without any statutory extension. She requested this new schedule in time for a meeting with Secretary Ross on August 3rd.[3]

On August 3, 2020, the Census Bureau announced publicly that it was moving the end date of the Census field operations to September 30th in order to deliver apportionment data by December 31st.[4] We have since learned that an internal Census Bureau presentation dated the same day—and not provided to Congress by the Administration—outlined the risks of the “[h]ighly compressed schedule” and warned that data products “will be negatively impacted under this revised plan.” It cautioned that “eliminated activities” will “reduce accuracy;” that the schedule “creates risk for serious errors not being discovered in the data;” and that such errors “may not be fixed—due to lack of time to research and understand the root cause or to re-run and re-review one or multiple state files.”[5] 

When we raised our concerns about these actions to Administration negotiators on August 3rd and cited the expert consensus that condensing the Census schedule would result in an inaccurate count, Mr. Meadows claimed that he could ensure a “99 percent accurate count” by September 30th. Mr. Meadows provided no evidence as to how this would be achieved, but simply asserted that the staff he consulted at the Census Bureau told him they could.  When asked if he consulted Director Dillingham directly about plans to move back the dates for which field operations and data processing would end, Mr. Meadows said he had not. Later, after consulting with aides, Mr. Meadows reported to us that Director Dillingham would soon be issuing a statement in support of moving the end date of Census field operations to September 30th and delivering apportionment data by December 31st.

On August 5th, we provided the Administration negotiators a letter signed by four former Census directors, from Republican and Democratic administrations, stating that it is not possible to have a fair, accurate Census count using the White House-imposed schedule and that the date of the data delivery must be extended into 2021, as originally requested by experts within the Census Bureau, and as conveyed by both of you to Congress in April. When Secretary Mnuchin responded that he would review the letter, Mr. Meadows interjected and stated, “the Democrats just want to control the apportionment and we aren’t going to let them do that.”

It appears that Mr. Meadows may have made the previously unspoken intentions of President and his Administration clear: the White House was intervening to ensure President Trump would control the apportionment process while in office rather than ensuring an accurate count for the American people as required by the Constitution.

Congress and the American people deserve answers on the reasons for this Administration’s sudden reversal on delaying Census operations during a pandemic to ensure the completeness and accuracy of the 2020 Census. We request that you produce to Congress all documents and communications referring or relating to the following no later than September 17, 2020:

  • Any discussions between the Commerce Department and Census Bureau since June 2020 regarding the schedule for completion of the 2020 Census, including all calendar invitations, meeting notes, written directives, or accounting of unwritten directives, as well as any justifications or analyses accompanying such discussions.
  • Any discussions regarding the schedule for completion of the 2020 Census between or among officials of the Census Bureau or the Commerce Department and other Administration officials, including the White House and the Office of Management and Budget. 
  • The Census Bureau’s August 3, 2020 announcement that field operations will end on September 30th and data processing will end by December 31st, the decision-making that led to that announcement, any Census experts consulted in the decision-making process, and any internal analysis or modeling assessing changes to existing processes and risks to data accuracy resulting from changing the timeline to shorten field operations and data-processing operations.
  • Any consultations with Census Bureau experts regarding the decision to abruptly change the 2020 Census schedule to deliver apportionment data by December 31st, including any risk assessments or analyses prepared by career staff about this decision.
  • Risk assessments, analyses, and operational plan alternatives provided to agency leadership by career staff in order to complete the Census more rapidly and deliver apportionment data by December 31st, provided before and after the internal decision to revert to the December 31st date, including any analyses or warnings about decreased accuracy or increased risks in any part of the operations due to an accelerated schedule. 

Please also find enclosed a summary of communications between the Census Bureau, Commerce Department, and Congress since April 2020. Thank you for your attention to this important matter.

Sincerely,

 

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