Watchdog agency says 2020 census is still on high-risk list

U.S. and World

FILE – In this Oct. 5, 2020 file photo, a flashing sign near the iconic “Freedom Tower,” advises people to fill out their census forms in downtown Miami. The U.S. Census Bureau said it won’t be delivering data used for redrawing state and local legislative districts until the end of September 2021. That will cause headaches for state lawmakers and redistricting commissions facing deadlines to redraw state legislative districts this year. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, File)

A watchdog agency on Tuesday again classified the 2020 census as high risk because of efforts last fall by the Trump administration to shorten the door-knocking and data-processing phases of the once-a-decade head count of every U.S. resident.

The compressed time frame for data collection increased the risk of compromised data quality, the U.S. Government Accountability Office said in its High-Risk Report.

The GAO has classified the 2020 census as a high-risk area since 2017.

Last spring, the Census Bureau was forced to delay field operations because of the coronavirus pandemic. The statistical agency came up with a new plan to extend data collection from the end of last July to the end of last October, and pushed back the deadline for data processing from the end of last December to the end of April.

Legislation to change the deadlines stalled in the Republican-controlled Senate last summer after President Donald Trump issued an order attempting to exclude people in the country illegally from the state population counts that are used for dividing up congressional seats among the states. The Trump administration then came up with another plan to end data collection a month early and cut the time for data processing by almost half.

That compressed schedule was challenged in court by a coalition of municipalities and civil rights groups who claimed the timeline was shortened so Trump would still be in the White House when the state population counts were finalized. The challenge went to the Supreme Court, which gave the Trump administration the green light to end data collection in mid-October, about two weeks earlier than planned.

After missing the end-of-December deadline for the congressional apportionment numbers, the Census Bureau kept pushing back the timeline, because of anomalies it found in the data, until it announced in late January that the numbers wouldn’t be ready until the end of April. The statistical agency also announced last month that redistricting data used to redraw congressional and legislative districts won’t be ready until the end of September.

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