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Time, Transparency Needed for Census   01/22 06:20

   

   (AP) -- Battered by criticism that the 2020 census was dangerously 
politicized by the Trump administration, the U.S. Census Bureau under a new 
Biden administration has the tall task of restoring confidence in the numbers 
that will be used to determine funding and political power.

   Picking up the pieces of a long, fractious process that spooled out during a 
global pandemic starts with transparency about irregularities in the data, 
former Census Bureau directors, lawmakers and advocates said.

   They advised the new administration to take more time to review and process 
population figures to be sure they get them right. The high-stakes undertaking 
will determine how many congressional seats and Electoral College votes each 
state gets as well as the distribution of $1.5 trillion in federal spending 
each year.

   "We are optimistic that things at the Census Bureau will be better. The 
question is whether the damage caused by the Trump administration can be 
rectified," said Marc Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League. 
Morial's organization, along with other advocacy groups and municipalities, 
sued former President Donald Trump's administration last year over a decision 
to end the once-a-decade head count early.

   According to critics, that damage includes a failed effort to add a 
citizenship question to the 2020 census questionnaire and a Trump order to 
figure out who is a citizen and who is in the U.S. illegally. They say another 
Trump directive to exclude people in the country illegally from the 
apportionment of congressional seats, shortened schedules to collect and 
process data, and four political appointments to top positions inside the 
bureau also threatened the count's integrity.

   Census workers across the country have told The Associated Press and other 
media outlets that they were encouraged to falsify responses in the rush to 
finish the count so the numbers used for determining how many congressional 
seats each state gets could be produced under the Trump administration. Census 
Bureau officials said such problems were isolated.

   Census advocates were heartened Wednesday by President Joe Biden's quick 
revocations of Trump's order to produce citizenship data and the former 
president's memo attempting to exclude people in the U.S. illegally from the 
apportionment count. The Biden administration also has pledged to give the 
Census Bureau the time it needs to process the data.

   The Census Bureau also said Thursday that redistricting data it's releasing 
later this year for states and municipalities to use in creating legislative 
districts won't include information on citizenship or immigration status. It 
also said the agency is suspending all work on trying to produce the 
immigration status of U.S. residents for the census.

   "President Biden's swift action today finally closes the book on the Trump 
administration's attempts to manipulate the census for political gain," said 
Dale Ho, director of the ACLU's Voting Rights Project, who argued against the 
legality of the apportionment memo before the Supreme Court last year. The high 
court ruled that any challenge was premature.

   After the bureau missed a year-end deadline for turning in the apportionment 
numbers, it said the figures would be completed as close to the previous 
deadline as possible. Trump administration attorneys recently said they won't 
be ready until early March because the bureau needs time to fix irregularities 
in the data.

   There will be flaws, likely undercounts of communities of color and 
overcounts of whites, but "they will just have to 'bake the best cake possible' 
through identifying and correcting the errors they can find," said Rob Santos, 
president of the American Statistical Association.

   Trump's four political appointments to the Census Bureau last year were 
denounced by statisticians and Democratic lawmakers worried they would 
politicize the once-a-decade head count. The Office of Inspector General last 
week said two of them had pressured bureau workers to figure out who is in the 
U.S. illegally before Trump left office, with one whistleblower calling the 
effort "statistically indefensible." Then-Census Bureau Director Steven 
Dillingham ordered a technical report on that effort but halted it after 
blowback. He resigned this week after Democratic lawmakers and civil rights 
groups called for his departure.

   The bureau's new interim chief, Deputy Director Ron Jarmin, didn't respond 
to a request for an interview. He will report to Biden's new pick to head the 
Commerce Department --- which oversees the Census Bureau --- Rhode Island Gov. 
Gina Raimondo.

   Former Census Bureau Director Kenneth Prewitt said he's optimistic the final 
product will be as accurate as past censuses, especially now that Jarmin is at 
the helm.

   "They know how to do it right. It just takes time," said Prewitt, who served 
in the Clinton administration.

   Another former bureau director, John Thompson, said the exit of Trump's 
appointees will help eliminate distractions to finishing the 2020 census, but 
the agency needs to hold a public forum to discuss what anomalies bureau 
statisticians have found in the data and what they're doing to fix them ahead 
of the apportionment numbers being turned in.

   U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, a Democrat from Hawaii, asked Biden to set up a 
nonpartisan commission to review the apportionment data to make sure it's fair 
and accurate before it's delivered to the House of Representatives.

   "The Census Bureau faced a number of challenges with the 2020 Census," 
Schatz said in a letter. "Some, like the pandemic, were beyond the agency's 
control. However, the Trump Administration actively interfered with the 
agency's operations."

   Despite facing pressures from their political bosses, the Census Bureau's 
career staff did a good job of resisting the Trump administration's most 
questionable orders by coming forward when they found errors in the data 
without worrying about the deadline and by whistleblowing to the inspector 
general when they felt pressured to produce citizenship of dubious accuracy, 
according to Morial, Santos and Thompson.

   "They deserve to be honored," Santos said.

 
 
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