Andrew Harnik / AP
Updated at 2:32:00 ET Friday
The Census Bureau cut back on critical efforts for the 2020 census amid growing concerns among Democrats in Congress that the White House will pressure the cabinet to end up counting soon for political gain, NPR has learned.
Attempts by cabinet workers to conduct face-to-face interviews for the census will end on September 30, not October 31, the end date he indicated in April would be necessary in order to count all the people living in the census. USA with major setbacks. of the coronavirus pandemic. Three Census Bureau employees, who were briefed on the plans during separate internal meetings on Thursday, confirmed the new completion date with NPR. All employees talked about the condition of anonymity for fear of losing their job.
“It will be impossible to complete the count on time,” says one of the cabinet employees, an area manager who oversees local census offices. “I’m really scared we’ll have a massive subcontract.”
Asked why and when the decision was made to advance the end of knocking on doors, the Census Bureau responded in a written statement on Friday: “We are currently evaluating our operations to allow the Census Bureau to provide this data in the most expeditious way and when these plans are finalized, we will make an announcement “.
About 4 out of ten national households have not yet participated in the constitutional count of every person living in the United States, and self-response rates are even lower in many communities.
This month, the cabinet has begun deploying latches to visit unresponsive homes in some parts of the country. Knockout efforts are expected to take place across the country on August 11th.
It is not clear how much longer households can send census responses on their own, via the Internet, by telephone and by mail. The office’s website, which until now Thursday still listed Oct. 31 as the end of the “self-response phase” that began in March, now says that this phase will last until the end of the collection of field data.
The period of time knocking on the condensed door increases the risk of leaving out many people of color, immigrants, and other members of historically outsourced groups from numbers that are collected once a decade to determine each state’s share. congressional seats, Electoral College votes and an estimated $ 1.5 billion. one year in federal tax dollars for Medicare, Medicaid and other utilities.
Former Census Bureau director John Thompson warns that with less time, the office should reduce the number of attempts that door knocks would make to try to collect information in a personalized way. The agency may also have to rely more on statistical methods to impute data on people living in households they cannot reach.
“The end result would be [over-representation] for the white non-Hispanic population and larger subcontracts for the rest of the population, including the traditionally difficult to count, “Thompson wrote in written testimony for a census hearing before the House Supervision and Reform Committee on Wednesday.
This last-minute scheduling change to the largest and most expensive field operation of the 2020 census comes as the office has publicly sent mixed signals about its plans to end the count.
In April, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, a Trump candidate overseeing the office, asked Congress to extend the legal deadlines for reporting census results because the office said it needed extra time to complete. the national chief’s count during the coronavirus pandemic.
Later that day, President Trump suggested that Congress have no choice but to approve pandemic extensions of the deadline.
“This is called an act of God,” Trump said. “It’s called a situation that has to be. They have to give it.”
So far, only Democrats have introduced legislation that would grant the cabinet request.
On Wednesday, the office quietly updated its website and removed a key reference to Oct. 31, the previously announced completion date for follow-up visits. The office’s website now says it “works to complete data collection as soon as possible as it strives to comply with laws and legal deadlines.”
Arturo Vargas, director general of the National Association of Delivered Educational Funds with Elements and Latin Nominees, which is helping to promote census participation, called the update “alarming.”
“We are concerned about what appears to be an abandonment of the application for the additional time that both the White House and the Census Bureau have recognized as necessary for a complete and accurate census,” Vargas said in a statement. “It is now too late for the Bureau to change course and the forthcoming COVID-19 relief legislation should reflect that reality.”
The White House, according to the office’s updated website, called for an additional $ 1,000 to fund “accelerated efforts” to end the bill “as quickly and safely as possible.” In their bailout proposal released Monday, Republicans in Congress offered less than half of that amount without extending the deadline.
During a hearing Wednesday before the House oversight committee, Steven Dillingham, the cabinet director and a Trump candidate, provided lawmakers with some insight into why the schedule change was made.
Representative Jimmy Gomez, D-Calif., Repeatedly asked Dillingham if he supports the office’s request to extend census terms.
But Dillingham did not answer the questions.
Asked by Rep. John Sarbanes, D-Md., If he knew the Trump administration wants it to end up counting quickly so the president can receive census delivery numbers by the end of the year, Dillingham replied, “I “I am not aware of all the reasons except to state that the Census Bureau and other people want them to proceed as quickly as possible. “
But top career office officials, including Tim Olson, the associate director of field operations, have publicly warned since May that the agency can no longer meet current deadlines.
Asked by Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., Dillingham said he “cannot agree” with Olson’s assessment, noting that the cabinet has “many more assessments ahead.”
“President Trump and Mitch McConnell are demanding that the American people fund their political manipulation of our democracy,” Vice President Carolyn Maloney, chair of the House oversight committee, said in a statement after the hearing. “Getting to the census to complete means that census workers will not have enough time to keep track of non-responses, an essential operation designed to find and count the hardest-to-reach communities.”
The office of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., And the White House press office have not responded to NPR’s requests for comment.
The pandemic has forced the cabinet to struggle to find alternative locations for newly hired registered worker boats, and the office expects public health concerns to increase the number of people who are not trained or working.
Near the end date of October 31, the census can take place, already augmented by months of delays, deepening as hundreds of thousands of office door punches try to figure out how face-to-face interviews are conducted. many states arise with growing coronavirus outbreaks in the midst of hurricane season.
“This date means nothing to me after today,” a census census official told NPR on Wednesday, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals by superiors.
“It’s embarrassing because we’ve been discussing this in presentations and conversations with staff,” the official added. “It hurts me that ‘all of a sudden’ they’ve changed their minds.”
Apparently, news of the Sept. 30 door-to-door call end date hadn’t reached the entire staff Thursday morning, when Jeff Behler, director of the New York office’s regional office, said during a press conference that local census offices in New England, New York, New Jersey and Puerto Rico had still planned to continue visiting unanswered households until the end of October.
“Are we doing something to speed it up?” Behler said this during the briefing organized by the Association for a Better New York. “I would say, not really.”
On Wednesday, during a hearing full of unanswered and roundabout answers to questions from lawmakers, Dillingham seemed right on at least one issue.
The director of the Census Bureau testified that he first learned of Trump’s plans to try to exclude unauthorized immigrants from census numbers used to reallocate seats in Congress not from internal debates, but from a report by news “late on a Friday” that said, “This directive may be falling through.”
“I swear it all day under oath,” Dillingham said after Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., Who looked incredulous on a remote video channel, reminded him she was testifying under oath.
Gomez, another House member who joined the hearing remotely to interrogate Dillingham, left the cabinet director with a stern warning before leaving the chamber.
“There seems to be an obvious pattern that you don’t control the Census Bureau,” Gomez said. “Your name will go down in history if this is the worst census ever conducted by the U.S. government. You won’t run away and say it was later only because of the Trump administration. You will be responsible.”