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2020 Census: Census Bureau Needs to Ensure Transparency over Data Quality

GAO-21-262T Published: Dec 03, 2020. Publicly Released: Dec 03, 2020.
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Fast Facts

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic and related executive branch decisions, the Census Bureau made a series of late changes to the design of the census.

These changes affected how the Bureau did its work and how long it took to do the work. The changes also introduced risks to the quality of data that the Bureau provides for apportioning congressional representation among the states.

We testified that we believe it's important—both for transparency and to ensure public confidence in the Census—that the Bureau share information about the quality of census data in near real-time as the data is released. Our related report has a recommendation.

a census worker approaching a house

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What GAO Found

This 2020 Census was taken under extraordinary circumstances. In response to the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic and related executive branch decisions, the Bureau made a series of late changes to the design of the census. The report GAO is releasing today discusses a number of concerns regarding how late changes to the census design could affect data quality. The Bureau has numerous planned assessments and evaluations of operations which, in conjunction with its post-enumeration survey (PES)—a survey conducted independently of each census to determine how many people were missed or counted more than once—help determine the overall quality of the census and document lessons for future censuses.

As the 2020 Census continues, GAO will continue to monitor the Bureau's response processing operations.

Why GAO Did This Study

GAO was asked to testify on the Census Bureau's progress to deliver apportionment counts for the 2020 Decennial Census. This testimony summarizes information contained in GAO's December 2020 report, entitled 2020 Census: Census Bureau Needs to Assess Data Quality Concerns Stemming from Recent Design Changes and discusses key quality indicators the Bureau can share, as it releases apportionment counts and redistricting data. These key indicators discussed are consistent with those recommended by the American Statistical Association and Census Scientific Advisory Committee for the Bureau.


In the accompanying report being issued today, GAO is recommending that the Bureau update and implement its assessments to address data quality concerns identified in this report, as well as any operational benefits. In its comments, the Department of Commerce agreed with GAO's findings and recommendation.

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