Op-Ed by Commerce Secretary Wilbur L. Ross: The Census Bureau is Not Shortchanging the Count
Fri, 08/14/2020 – 08:06
The U.S. Census Bureau is well on its way to delivering a complete and accurate 2020 Census. I am proud to oversee this essential activity which is clearly outlined in the United States Constitution.
Critics claim incorrectly that the Census Bureau is shortchanging the count. This is not an accurate depiction of the current state of the 2020 Census, which is on its way to delivering a successful count in every community across the nation.
Last week, the Census Bureau announced an updated plan to complete data collection by September 30, 2020, in order to meet the statutory deadline of December 31, 2020.
The Census Bureau’s plan adapts the important field operation that follows up with nonresponding households, and it increases the number of hours worked per week to accomplish the same amount of work in a shorter time period and meet the statutory deadline, without sacrificing quality.
Under this plan, the Census Bureau will meet or exceed the standard for data collection set in previous decennial censuses.
So, while the critics have said this plan is being “cut-off” too soon, in reality, it has been strengthened in order to get the complete and accurate count on time.
Over 100 million households have already responded to the 2020 census across all our operations, ahead of our projections for this point.
This week we fully engage the 2020 census’s important non-response follow-up operation, where census-takers go door-to-door to obtain responses from the just over 50 million households who have not yet responded.
We have successfully completed a soft launch of our non-response follow-up operation in select areas across the country. While always a challenging operation, millions of completed interviews are under our belt and many millions more are anticipated in the coming weeks.
We do not sugar coat the challenges we face when conducting an operation of this scope. However, there are several clear-cut reasons to anticipate nothing less than success.
With our multiple ways to respond – internet, telephone or paper, we are able to remove people who continue to answer the census from the census taker’s workload in near real-time, thereby reducing the number of households that will require the more time-consuming, door-to-door counting.
Our tests have shown that after the first visit by a census-taker, many households who do not answer promptly go online or make a call and complete the 2020 Census, avoiding follow-up visits.
The Census Bureau has optimized our door-to-door data collection operation using the same route optimization and administrative technology to increase productivity used by many parcel carriers. In short, we will get more cases done during the hours we work.
The Census Bureau has also increased its advertising and communications effort by $200 million from our original plan, for a total of $700 million, spending more than ever before on highly targeted advertising that can reach the lowest responding communities and optimizing our communications campaign to stay focused on motivating the most difficult-to-count populations.
Our messaging will continue to encourage self-response, emphasize the safety and confidentiality of responding to the 2020 Census, and encourage cooperation with census-takers when they knock on Americans’ doors for an interview.
As part of our re-plan, the Bureau will hire more census takers, and sustain a larger than planned temporary workforce through the collection period by hiring from the Census Bureau’s approved applicant pool, which tops 3 million individuals. This will make many more workers available during August and September than originally planned.
The Census Bureau will reward high performing census takers who work extra hours, thereby increasing the average number of hours worked above our original projections.
In cases where phone numbers are available, some census takers will initiate calls to seek responses in addition to their in-person solicitations.
Innovative methods such as this will allow the Census Bureau to more quickly and efficiently complete field operations.
Additionally, the Census Bureau has leveraged existing sources of administrative records more than ever before and is using them more efficiently.
For example, in 2010 the Census Bureau sent workers to a vacant unit up to six times. Now, we use records to identify vacant units, and a single visit is adequate to confirm that no one is living there.
Third: Community Partnerships
For this year’s census, the Bureau made a much stronger effort to recruit local community organizations and create public-private partnerships to encourage responses.
Currently, there are over 390,000 partnerships established, compared to 256,000 in 2010, and over 90,000 more than our target.
Similarly, the Bureau organized over 9,500 Complete Count Committees with state, local and tribal governments. In 2010, the Census Bureau did not even track this initiative.
To encourage greater efforts by local governments, jointly with Tim Olson, head of Census Field Operations, I have personally called the mayors of 63 low-response cities.
In nearly every instance, these calls resulted in specific new initiatives by the mayors targeted at the most difficult to count area of their local population.
We have already seen improvements in response rates as a result of this and other outreach efforts.
In order to monitor all performance aspects of the census, I receive a very detailed briefing every week and discuss the current status and any updates directly with the Bureau’s management team. And to ensure transparency, the operational leads of the 2020 Census brief the majority and minority staff of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, House Oversight and Reform Committee, and both Senate and House Appropriations every week.
This hands-on management and oversight process provides us with the ability to make accurate and productive course corrections in real-time.
While the Census Bureau has had to adjust its operational plan in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, President Trump and I, along with Director Steven Dillingham and the career managers at the Census Bureau, remain committed to the responsible stewardship of every single taxpayer dollar.
No amount of planning by the Census Bureau could have predicted the costs associated with executing this vital operation during this time. That’s why the Trump administration is seeking additional funding to ensure a complete count while protecting the health and safety of the public and the census workforce.
With the full support of the Trump administration and the Department of Commerce, the women and men of the Census Bureau, including the hundreds of thousands of temporary workers, will work diligently to achieve a complete and accurate count.
I encourage you to do your part by responding now at 2020Census.gov and urging others to do the same.
Please remember that your 2020 Census responses are strictly confidential, and the data is important to shaping your community’s future for the next ten years.
Wilbur Ross is the U.S. Secretary of Commerce.