The COVID-19 pandemic has caused the Census Bureau to make a series of late-stage adjustments to the census design and these changes have opened risks to the “quality of data that the Bureau provides for apportioning congressional representation among the states.”

In a report to Congress, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) stated that it will be important for the Bureau to share key quality indicators in near real time as it releases apportionment and redistricting data to ensure transparency and to ensure public confidence in the quality of the 2020 Census.

“Today, we are issuing the first in a series of planned reports that will assess the operations of the 2020 Census and identify lessons learned as planning begins for 2030,” GAO said. “We interviewed Bureau officials to better understand downstream effects of operational changes made during the COVID-19 response, as well as to learn about any actions the Bureau is taking to monitor cost and quality effects of the changes.”

GAO said that on Nov. 20, Bureau officials said that they were running into “anomalies” as they processed responses for apportionment count. Bureau officials said as they integrated data in group quarter counts, they found mismatches and duplicates. Additionally, the system was sometimes changing ages incorrectly as they changed the year for the date of birth.

“According to Bureau officials, processing anomalies are not unexpected, in that they occur with each census, and time is typically built into the schedule to identify and address them,” GAO said. “However, do to the compressed processing schedule for 2020, Bureau officials are unable to provide a firm date for when the apportionment counts will be delivered to the President, reiterating that the Bureau’s plan is to provide the counts as close to Dec. 31, 2020 as possible.”

GAO recommends that the Bureau update and implement assessments to address data quality concerns and to provide operational benefits. The Department of Commerce, which houses the Census Bureau, agreed with both GAO’s findings and its recommendation.

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Jordan Smith
Jordan Smith
Jordan Smith is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.