Census interference targeted in bill and recommendations

Democratic lawmakers, determined to ensure the Trump administration’s unprecedented efforts to politicize the 2020 census never happen again, are moving forward with backup plans they say will help the U.S. tally to remain free from any future interference.

House Democrats are preparing to send legislation to the House floor this week that would put up roadblocks against political interference in the U.S. census, which determines political power and federal funding.

House legislation that will be heard this week before the Rules Committee will require that new questions on a census form be considered by Congress and that a director of the U.S. Census Bureau cannot be fired without cause. The proposed legislation makes the director of the Census Bureau responsible for all technical, operational, and statistical decisions and states that an assistant director must be a career staff member with experience in demographics, statistics, or related fields. If approved by the committee, it will be sent to the House floor for a vote later this week.

The Biden administration said Tuesday it supports the legislation, but indicated it may want to change the bill’s provisions requiring the Census Bureau’s annual budget to include estimated costs over five years. These provisions were added after preparations for the 2020 census faced budget cuts and funding delays. The Biden administration wants to make sure the bill doesn’t circumvent the Office of Management and Budget’s role in formulating budget requests and avoids “infringing on the president’s authority over executive branch agencies.” “, the office said in a statement.

The goals of the legislation overlap with recommendations made Tuesday by the Brennan Center for Justice that would limit executive branch interference and increase congressional oversight of the census. The think tank, which has opposed the Trump administration’s efforts to end the U.S. count early, recommends making the U.S. Census Bureau more independent.

The once-a-decade census determines the number of congressional seats each state gets and the breakdown of $1.5 trillion in federal spending each year. Its results are used to redraw political constituencies. The 2020 census was one of the toughest in recent memory, not only due to attempted political interference, but also due to the COVID-19 pandemic and natural disasters.

In the years leading up to the 2020 census, the Trump administration tried unsuccessfully to add a question about citizenship to the census questionnaire, a move advocates feared would scare Hispanics and immigrants from participating. whether they are legally in the country or not. The Supreme Court blocked the issue.

The Trump administration has also tried unsuccessfully to get the Census Bureau to illegally exclude the nation’s residents from population figures used to allocate congressional seats among states, also known as apportionment numbers.

Critics claimed that the citizenship issue was inspired by a Republican redistricting expert who believed that using voting-age citizen population instead of total population in an effort to redraw congressional and legislative districts could benefit Republicans and non-Hispanic whites.

“Existing law leaves too much room for political actors to override the best statistical science and manipulate the census,” the Brennan Center report said.

The Brennan Center was among several local groups and governments that filed a lawsuit in 2020 to stop the Trump administration from ending door-to-door operations a month earlier than planned as part of a schedule revised published by the Census Bureau in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Critics feared the Trump administration wanted to end data collection and processing early to ensure President Donald Trump was still in office when the distribution figures were released. The breakdown figures were released in April 2021, four months after President Joe Biden took office and Trump left.

The Brennan Center report recommends making the Census Bureau fully independent of the Commerce Department and giving the Census Bureau director, rather than Commerce political appointees, final decision-making authority over the census. The current director, Robert Santos, was nominated by Biden.

“Removing the Census Bureau from the Department of Commerce would be a major first step toward protecting the bureau from executive interference,” the report said.

The Brennan Center also recommends a change that is not in the House legislation — the creation of permanent House and Senate committees or subcommittees dedicated to census follow-up. Current congressional committees that provide oversight have large portfolios and cannot devote the necessary time to the census, according to the report.

Even though many of the Trump administration’s policy efforts ultimately failed, some supporters believe they had an impact, with a much greater undercount of most racial and ethnic minorities in the 2020 census compared to the 2010 census.

The 2020 census black population had a net undercount of 3.3%, while it was almost 5% for Hispanics and 5.6% for American Indians and Native Americans. Alaska living on reservations. Those who identified with another race had a net undercount of 4.3%.

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Follow Mike Schneider on Twitter at https://twitter.com/MikeSchneiderAP

About Jean R. Manzer

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