Aug. 7, 2018

Academies Task Force on the 2020 Census Releases Letter Report on Proposed Information Collection

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine's Task Force on the 2020 Census today issued a letter report and submitted it as a public comment to the U.S. Department of Commerce, which recently requested public comments on the 2020 Census.  

The task force, which was established by the Academies' Committee on National Statistics to examine challenges in conducting the next decennial census, concluded that the Commerce Department's recent decision to add a question on citizenship status to the 2020 census is inconsistent with the "proper performance of the functions" of the Census Bureau.  The American Community Survey already meets the stated need for citizenship data, it noted, and adding the question without proper testing impairs the quality of the 2020 census as a whole.  Furthermore, adding the citizenship question and using the method described in the secretary of commerce's memo and the Census Bureau's review would create a new population register.  Such a register has unclear statistical purposes and could not under current law be used for nonstatistical purposes, such as law enforcement against individuals, and still comport with the bureau’s mission.

While citizenship is an important public policy topic and worthy of high-quality data collection, adding this question to the 2020 census risks undermining the credibility of the Census Bureau and the decennial census, the trust of its respondents, and the independence of the Census Bureau's professional staff to develop, produce, and disseminate objective information while protecting confidentiality of respondents.