Peters, Colleagues Introduces Legislation to Protect Accuracy of Census

Last-minute Changes to Census Would Skew an Accurate Population Count & Increase Costs on Taxpayers

Washington, DC – U.S. Senator Gary Peters (D-MI), Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Federal Spending Oversight and Emergency Management, joined his colleagues in introducing the 2020 Census Improving Data and Enhanced Accuracy (IDEA) Act, legislation would prevent last-minute changes to the 2020 Census that have not been adequately researched and tested by the Census Bureau.

“Major changes to the decennial census require years of careful research, testing and public feedback. I am very concerned that abrupt, last-minute additions to the 2020 census will increase costs to the taxpayer and result in a less accurate count,” said Senator Peters. “This legislation would hold the Department of Commerce accountable and instill greater trust in the accuracy of census data in communities across the country.”

The Census Bureau typically conducts extensive research and field testing to determine the optimal design of census forms, and even small changes in wording or question order can have unexpected effects on response rates and undermine the accuracy of census data.

Earlier this week, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross announced a new addition to the 2020 Census that may impact the accuracy and cost of the survey. Without proper research and testing, last-minute changes or additions may discourage participation in the census, undercount certain populations, and increase the cost to the government by requiring a higher number of paid workers to go into neighborhoods to ensure an accurate population count.  According to a 2017 report from the Census Bureau, data collected in the decennial census are used to allocate hundreds of billions of dollars in federal funds to local communities in Michigan and across the country, including for infrastructure projects, Medicare, and Head Start.

Peters introduced the bill with Senators Brian Schatz (D-HI), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Tom Udall (D-NM), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN).

The 2020 Census IDEA Act would:

  • Prohibit last-minute changes or additions to the census without proper research, studying, and testing;
  • Ensure that subjects, types of information, and questions that have not been submitted to Congress according to existing law are not included;
  • Require biannual reports on the U.S. Census Bureau’s operation plan, including the status of its research and testing, and require that this report be publicly available on the Bureau’s website;
  • Direct the U.S. Government Accountability Office to determine and report to Congress that the subjects, types of information, and questions on the decennial census have been researched, studied, and tested to the same degree as previous decennial census; and
  • Apply the provisions of this bill only to the decennial census, and not the mid-decade census or the American Community Survey.