The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Independent report finds no obvious problems with the 2020 Census

People walk past posters last year encouraging participation in the 2020 Census in Seattle. (Ted S. Warren/AP)
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An independent report released Tuesday by a group of census experts said they did not have enough information to determine the quality of the 2020 Census but found “no major anomalies” in the data.

Last fall, the American Statistical Association’s 2020 Census Quality Indicators task force had recommended the assessment of the decennial survey in the wake of unprecedented challenges. These included the coronavirus pandemic, natural disasters and battles over Trump administration efforts to add a citizenship question and exclude undocumented immigrants from being counted for apportionment.

The report was conducted by a team of outside experts and conducted with the cooperation of the Census Bureau. However, Tuesday’s report said the task force did not have enough data to conduct a thorough assessment of the survey’s quality. It evaluated only the state population totals released in April and not the more granular data released in August, which includes details about race, ethnicity and geography.

The information was not received from the bureau soon enough to do more, said Nancy Potok, task force co-chair and former chief statistician of the United States, adding that the bureau was under pressure to meet other deadlines.

“In an ideal world we would have gotten the data we requested much more quickly and then would have been able to do more researching of unanswered questions and continued to request additional data, particularly the data at the lower levels of geography and with household characteristics,” she wrote in an email to The Washington Post.

Despite concerns that the survey could be jeopardized by interference by political appointees brought in by the Trump administration, the group found “no evidence of anything other than an independent and professional enumeration process by the Census Bureau,” the report said.

“There was a very good and effective effort to not have the extra political appointees cause a lot of trouble, and [they] weren’t allowed to really get in the way of due diligence of the proper processing of the data,” Thomas Louis, a task force member and former bureau chief scientist, told reporters on a call Monday. “I don’t know whether they tried, but I don’t think they did.”

The group has scrapped plans to produce a second report on the quality of the 2020 Census, given that National Academies’ Committee on National Statistics is conducting a similar assessment, Potok said. Noting that four task force members and one of its expert researchers are participating in that effort, she said, “It just didn’t make sense for us to continue running two parallel efforts with overlapping people.”

Tuesday’s report “should help to lift up confidence in the Census Bureau itself that the bureau did the best job it could under a lot of duress,” said Terri Ann Lowenthal, a former staff director of the House census oversight subcommittee. “[It] also makes clear that there is a lot we still don’t know about how good and how accurate the 2020 census was.”