Report: Census Bureau At Risk Of Not Being Ready For Count

FILE - In a Wednesday, July 24, 2019 file photo, U.S. Census Bureau director Steven Dillingham testifies before the House Oversight subcommittee on Capitol Hill in Washington. With the start of the 2020 census just a month away for most U.S. residents, Census Bureau director Steven Dillingham is going to Capitol Hill Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2020 to update lawmakers about the agency's readiness for the federal government’s largest peacetime operation. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File)

With the start of the 2020 census just a month away for most U.S. residents, the U.S. Census Bureau is behind in recruiting workers and establishing partnerships with civic groups, and it is at risk of missing some informational technology testing goals, according to a report released Wednesday.

While the Census Bureau has succeeded so far in early tasks of verifying addresses across the U.S. and launching an advertising campaign, the agency’s readiness for upcoming operations is mixed, according to the report from the Government Accountability Office.

The report was made public Wednesday during a hearing by the House Committee on Oversight and Reform.

The GAO report said the bureau was at risk of missing testing milestones for five IT operations, including one that will allow people to self-respond and another for following-up with households that haven’t answered the questions on their own.

“Where the risk is, is just time. We are in a pressure cooker of time to get things done,” said Nick Marinos, the GAO’s director of information technology.

Lawmakers held the hearing Wednesday to get an update from Census Bureau director Steven Dillingham and other agency officials on its readiness for the largest and most complex head count in U.S, history.

Dillingham testified that the bureau was on its way toward reaching its goals for hiring and partnerships.

“We are confident that we are on mission, on budget and on target,” Dillingham said. “The 2020 census is positioned for success.”

The chairwoman of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, said the GAO report was sending “flashing red lights” that the bureau wasn’t ready.

“Whether through incompetence or intentional action, this administration’s failures risk causing grave harm to this year’s census that could jeopardize a complete and accurate count,” Democratic Rep. Carolyn Maloney of New York said.

Other lawmakers, led by Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, were unhappy that the bureau hadn’t yet shared with them a breakdown by congressional district of the partnerships the agency had established in each congressional district. Dillingham said some partners hadn’t given permission to make their affiliation with the Census Bureau public.

Democratic Rep. Katie Porter of California told Census Bureau officials that some of her constituents had received mail from the Republican National Committee that resembled a census form and she worried they would be confused by it. Dillingham promised to study the problem.

The 2020 Census started last month in a remote part of rural Alaska. But the rest of the nation won’t be able to start answering the questionnaire until the middle of next month. For the first time, the U.S. Census Bureau is encouraging most participants to fill out the form online, although they can still answer the questions by telephone or by returning a paper form.

The 2020 count will help determine the allocation of $1.5 trillion in federal spending and how many congressional seats each state gets.



  1. I worked for it last time. It had major problems that time around too. Considering how important it is, we have to wake up and pay attention. That includes making sure there’s enough money, that the contracts are bid properly, and that the training systems are updated. Last time the Census was required to rely on donated space for training, which of course left them scrambling. Also, training was by the “telephone” method. The heads of offices were trained centrally. They went back to their district offices and trained department heads, who trained team leaders, who trained the workers. Ever play “telephone?” It doesn’t work for complicated instructions, either. They need standardized training videos. Another problem is that there were a lot of high-quality people in the job market then, willing to work at less-skilled jobs for less money. The “less money” part is still there, but the unemployed people aren’t. You get what you pay for, and our government isn’t willing to pay.