With scores of people displaced because of the coronavirus pandemic and other disasters, the U.S. Census Bureau is facing an especially daunting challenge of meeting its once-a-decade goal of tallying every person living in the country “once, only once and in the right place.”
After counting is set to end on Sept. 30, the bureau has about three months to process all of the information it’s gathered this year for the once-a-decade, constitutionally mandated head count. “If you want an accurate census, the quality checks are as important as the initial enumeration itself,” says former Census Bureau Director Ken Prewitt, who oversaw the 2000 count.
But the last-minute schedule changes the Trump administration directed the bureau to make have left the agency’s staff scrambling to decide what quality checks to trim or toss out.
“At this point, it will take an unprecedented level of transparency for this count to have the credibility it needs,” says Denice Ross, a senior fellow with the National Conference on Citizenship who once co-directed the Data Center in New Orleans. “When they’re out there in the field and they’re counting a household, did they actually reach people in that household or did they ask a neighbor, for example?”