House Oversight Committee Obtains Internal Census Document The shortened schedule for the 2020 census increases the risk of significantly decreasing data quality, according to an internal Census Bureau document obtained by the House Oversight Committee.

Leak Reveals Warnings Inside Census That Shortened Schedule Risks 'Serious Errors'

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

An internal document has leaked from the U.S. Census Bureau with a grave warning. The Trump administration's recent decision to shorten the 2020 census schedule risks, quote, "serious errors" in the national headcount. That was the conclusion of the Census Bureau's own analysis. It became public today through the House Oversight Committee. The Census Bureau has told NPR it declines to comment on the situation. Well, NPR's Hansi Lo Wang covers all things census related. He is here to comment. He's on the line from New York.

Hi, Hansi.

HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: Hi, Mary Louise.

KELLY: What else does this leaked document from the Census Bureau say?

WANG: Well, there are serious warnings here about the accuracy of census results. The main issue here is that after counting is supposed to stop at the end of this month, according to the Census Bureau's current schedule, the bureau still needs time to sort through all that information and try to find and fix any mistakes in the data, which, you know, sounds really technical and nerdy.

But let's not forget when we're talking about the census, these are population numbers used to determine how many House seats, Electoral College votes each state gets, how voting maps are redrawn and how trillions in federal funding are distributed to local communities for the next 10 years. And the warning here from inside the Census Bureau is that there is not enough time to get these numbers right because of this shortened schedule.

KELLY: OK. How did they not anticipate, Hansi, that this might be a problem? I mean, what was the thinking? Why the push for the shortened census schedule?

WANG: You know, it's a bit of a mystery. President Trump himself said back in April that the bureau needed more time because of the pandemic. But then he issued this memo in July that calls for unauthorized immigrants to be left out of not the census in general but specifically the numbers used for redistributing seats in Congress among the states, even though the 14th Amendment of the Constitution says those numbers should include the whole number of persons in each state. But that memo came out, and more than a week later, I broke the story that the Trump administration had apparently decided that they wanted counting for the 2020 census to be done sooner rather than later. And that would mean that the first set of census results would be delivered to President Trump even if he doesn't win reelection. And we're talking about the same set of census results that President Trump wants to exclude unauthorized immigrants from.

KELLY: OK. Well, if they're looking at a possible train wreck here, is there any way to walk this back? Can the Census Bureau add time back for counting?

WANG: There are two federal lawsuits right now racing to try to get a court ruling that forces the Census Bureau to go back to a longer schedule that they developed in response to COVID-19. And some census advocates are watching to see if Congress, maybe through the next coronavirus relief package, passes a law that extends reporting deadlines for census results. And that could give the Census Bureau more time to keep on counting past September 30 and through October 31 and also more time to process these results and make sure their count is as accurate as possible. But time is running out. There are 28 days left of counting for the 2020 census according to the Census Bureau schedule right now.

KELLY: All right, lots to sift through there. And we shall watch and see if they manage to come up with any kind of solution for this. That is NPR's Hansi Lo Wang - he covers the 2020 census - reporting on this leaked document from the U.S. Census Bureau warning that there may be serious errors in the national headcount.

Hansi, thank you so much.

WANG: You're welcome, Mary Louise.

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