The Gray Lady Speaks

The New York Times posts an editorial about the 2020 Census – its funding, leadership, and the consequences thereof.

Save the Census
Editorial Board | The New York Times
July 17, 2017

Selected excerpts from the editorial:

The Government Accountability Office already put the 2020 census on its list of high-risk projects early this year, due to uncertainty about its budget and technology, and Americans’ increasing distrust of government data collection.

Then, the Census Bureau’s director, John Thompson, who was expected to remain on the job until at least the end of the year, resigned in June. Mr. Trump has not named a permanent replacement. The agency’s deputy director, Nancy Potok, an experienced statistician, left in January, and she also has not been replaced.

Responses to mail-in questionnaires — still the chief data collection method for the census — and door-to-door interviews have been declining for years, a G.A.O. report said.

The bureau — criticized in the past by government watchdogs and Congress for cost overruns and management missteps — is strapped for cash in a critical preparation year.

The bureau hopes to bolster its door-to-door “clipboard” force by automating the force’s work and introducing online reporting. But there’s not much money to test whether the approach actually works on the census: The bureau scrapped three field tests slated for this year, and two more for next year, including tests among rural people, who are traditionally one of the most seriously undercounted populations. There’s also less money to protect the online system from hacking of the kind that crashed Australia’s online count last year.

Mr. Trump poses an additional threat: His repeated efforts to discredit voter registration data and government employment numbers leave census officials worried that a random tweet from him could discourage more people from participating. Census professionals worry that the administration’s efforts to deport undocumented immigrants could make them wary of providing information about themselves and where they live.

The census is the federal government’s chief source of data about the American people and economy, a sweeping endeavor. “If you don’t do the investment at the front end, you can’t fix it later,”. . .


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