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Cummings Issues Statement Calling for Hearings on Trump Administration Plan to Add Citizenship Question to Census

Mar 27, 2018
Press Release

Washington, D.C. (Mar. 27, 2018)—Today, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, the Ranking Member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, issued the following statement in response to reports that the Census Bureau is planning to add a question about citizenship to the 2020 Census:

“People across the country—including in red, blue, and purple states—need to understand that if their communities are undercounted, they could lose critical funds for highways, education, healthcare, and an array of other federal programs.  The Trump Administration’s plan to insert a new, untested question on citizenship will increase costs for American taxpayers and decrease the accuracy of the census itself.  

“I personally spoke with Secretary Ross about this issue, and I am very disappointed that he appears to be disregarding the views of Republican and Democratic experts—including six former Census Directors—and is instead rushing ahead with a politically-motivated decision that will jeopardize the full, fair, and accurate count our Constitution demands.  The Oversight Committee has jurisdiction over the Census, and I call on Chairman Gowdy to hold hearings as soon as possible on this issue, as well as other troubling examples of politicization at the Census Bureau under President Trump.”

Cummings also released a letter today strongly opposing the move that was sent to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross from six former Census Directors spanning Republican and Democratic Administrations from 1973 to 2017.  According to this letter:

“Adding a citizenship question without a testing opportunity in a contemporary, census-like environment will invalidate the results and lessons learned from the EndtoEnd test.  Key assumptions underlying estimates of selfresponse, staffing needs, local office sites, and communication strategies will no longer be sound, calling into question cost projections that we know you have worked hard to validate and update.  In addition, the Census Bureau would need to modify data capture and processing systems, language assistance and enumerator training materials, and webbased instructions for completing the census in the time remaining before the 2020 Census starts—all without the benefit of field testing. ...

“It is highly risky to ask untested questions in the context of the complete 2020 Census design.  There is a great deal of evidence that even small changes in survey question order, wording, and instructions can have significant, and often unexpected, consequences for the rate, quality, and truthfulness of response.  The effect of adding a citizenship question to the 2020 Census on data quality and census accuracy, therefore, is completely unknown.  Also of import, overcoming unexpected obstacles that arise as 2020 Census operations unfold would add to the cost, without assurances that such efforts would yield a more accurate outcome. 

“In summary, we believe that adding a citizenship question to the 2020 Census will considerably increase the risks to the 2020 enumeration.  Because we share your goal of a ‘full, fair, and accurate census,’ as the Constitution requires, we urge you to consider a prudent course of action in response to the Justice Department’s untimely and potentially disruptive request.”

 

The letter was sent by the following six former Census Directors:

Vincent P. Barabba (1973‐1976; 1979-1981)

Martha Farnsworth Riche (1994‐1998)

Kenneth Prewitt (1998-2001)

Steven H. Murdock (2008‐2009)

Robert  M.  Groves (2009-2012)

John Thompson (2013-2017)

 

Background:

 

  • Loss of Federal Funding:  Hundreds of billions of dollars in federal funding are driven annually by Census data.  According to one recent study, 37 states lost on average more than $1,000 for every person missed in the last Census.  This means that improperly counted communities could lose critical dollars for highway planning and construction, education, and healthcare programs.

 

  • Decrease in Accuracy:  Recent research by the Census Bureau found that individuals currently have an “‘unprecedented’ level of concern” over the confidentiality of their personal data.  The citizenship question will exacerbate this distrust, particularly in vulnerable and traditionally undercounted communities. The Bureau has already concluded the testing phase for the 2020 Census and presented its proposed census subjects to Congress last year.  Census questions are supposed to undergo an extensive screening process constituting years of focus groups and field tests to ensure a high response rate coupled with effective data collection.

 

  • Increase in Costs:  This move will increase the overall cost to the American taxpayers by decreasing initial response rates and creating the need for costly follow-up activities.

 

  • Widespread Opposition:  Six former Census Directors, 19 state Attorneys General, more than 160 mayors, 170 civil rights organizations, and various other stakeholders have raised serious concerns with the addition of a citizenship question to the Census.
115th Congress