When the Government Accountability Office labeled the 2020 census as a high-risk government program in February 2017, the Census Bureau planned to address many of its challenges by re-engineering the census infrastructure and relying on new time and money-saving applications. Now, a July 16 GAO report details three primary concerns the watchdog agency has with the Bureau’s tech-based approach: untested innovations, implementation of IT systems and cybersecurity risks. The Bureau plans to use online census forms, which it expects will not only reduce costs but also increase accessibility and efficiency. Other innovations include re-engineering field operations, using administrative records and verifying addresses in-office. While these innovations show promise, they lack proper testing, GAO said, which raises the possibility of unexpected risks. The 2020 census will rely heavily on IT systems, which also need development and in-depth testing to confirm they function properly. To ensure adequate time for these tasks, the Census Bureau revised its systems development and testing schedule in October 2018, but according to GAO, “the Bureau is at risk of not meeting near-term IT system development and testing schedule milestones for five upcoming 2020 Census operational deliveries.”Full Article: GAO again warns of risks in 2020 census -- FCW.
Lawmakers are raising concerns that the upcoming 2020 census, which people are expected to fill out primarily online for the first time, is opening the door to potential cyber vulnerabilities. These vulnerabilities were in the spotlight on Capitol Hill on Tuesday as the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee held a hearing to examine the security of the census, which residents will be able to complete online, over the phone or on paper. The hearing featured testimony from top officials from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), which has added the Census Bureau to its list of “high risk programs” due to cybersecurity and information technology shortfalls. “Although the Bureau has taken initial steps to address risk, additional actions are needed as these risks could adversely impact the cost, quality, schedule, and security of the enumeration,” Nick Marinos, the director of Information Technology and Cybersecurity at GAO, and Robert Goldenkoff, the director of Strategic Issues at GAO, said in their written testimony. Concerns center around the security of personal data involved in the census, and around securing systems against threats from foreign nations. The anxiety echoes some of the worry surrounding security against cyberattacks from foreign actors during the upcoming presidential election.Full Article: Alarm sounds over census cybersecurity concerns | TheHill.
National: Hacking, Glitches, Disinformation: Why Experts Are Worried About the 2020 Census | Chris Hamby/The New York Times
In the run-up to the 2020 census, the government has embraced technology as never before, hoping to halt the ballooning cost of the decennial head count. For the first time, households will have the option of responding online, and field workers going door to door will be equipped with smartphones to log the information they collect. To make it all work, the Census Bureau needed more computing power and digital storage space, so it turned to cloud technology provided by Amazon Web Services. What the bureau didn’t realize — until an audit last year — was that there was an unsecured door to sensitive data left open. Access credentials for an account with virtually unlimited privileges had been lost, potentially allowing a hacker to view, alter or delete information collected during recent field tests. The Census Bureau says that it has closed off this vulnerability and that no information was compromised. But the discovery of the problem highlights the myriad risks facing next year’s all-important head count.Full Article: Hacking, Glitches, Disinformation: Why Experts Are Worried About the 2020 Census - The New York Times.
National: 2020 Census likely target of hacking, disinformation campaigns, officials say | The Washington Post
With just a year to go before the 2020 Census, the U.S. government is urgently working to safeguard against hacking and disinformation campaigns as it perfects a plan to count about 330 million people largely online for the first time. Going digital is intended to cut costs. But cybersecurity experts say it may also put the survey at unprecedented risk in a nation embroiled in fallout from Russian interference in the 2016 election. Any outside attempt to discredit or manipulate the decennial survey could drive down response rates, imperiling the integrity of data that help determine a decade’s worth of federal funding, congressional apportionment and redistricting throughout the country. “Just as with voting, completing the census is a powerful exercise in our democracy, and there are always people who want to prevent others from exercising their power,” said Indivar Dutta-Gupta, co-executive director of the Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality and an expert on the census. “I think there will be lots of attempts. We should be concerned.”Full Article: 2020 Census likely target of hacking, disinformation campaigns, officials say - The Washington Post.
Moving with unusual speed, the Supreme Court on Monday set the stage for acting soon – probably on Friday – on the constitutional controversy over asking everyone living in America about their citizenship, as part of the 2020 census. At issue at this point is whether the Justices will take up directly, without waiting for further action in lower courts, the dispute over the contents of the questionnaire that will go to every household across the nation next year. The outcome of the controversy may have a major influence on dividing up seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, on drawing up new election district maps at all levels of government, and about the distribution of billions of dollars in federal money. Although there is a clear dispute among the two sides in the controversy about the legality of adding the citizenship question, everyone involved has now agreed that an answer needs to be forthcoming before the Supreme Court finishes its current term, probably in late June.Full Article: Supreme Court likely to act this week on census dispute - National Constitution Center.
Maryland: In census trial, Trump administration tries to show citizenship question would not harm the 2020 count | The Washington Post
Testimony wrapped up Thursday over the Trump administration’s addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 Census as government attorneys sought to show it would not harm the accuracy of the count. In the second week of trial at U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland in Greenbelt, the Census Bureau’s chief scientist, John Abowd, was called to testify by both sides. Abowd, who has testified in similar trials in New York and California, told government lawyers that although the citizenship question would be likely to produce a drop in the initial self-response rate and make the count more costly, the undercount could ultimately be mitigated by census enumerators doing a Nonresponse Followup Operation (NRFU). But when questioned by plaintiffs’ lawyers, Abowd said that even if the households that failed to initially respond could ultimately be counted by the NRFU, adding the question would irreparably harm the accuracy of many of those responses. “The increase in cost and the degradation of the data cannot be remediated by NRFU,” he said.Full Article: In Md. census trial, Trump administration tries to show citizenship question would not harm the 2020 count - The Washington Post.
Maryland: Trial on census citizenship question focuses on disenfranchisement in its first few days | The Washington Post
In a trial that began in Maryland this week over the Trump administration’s plan to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census, public policy experts, statisticians, immigrant leaders and a former Census Bureau director said the question would likely produce a less accurate count, and lawyers accused the government of conspiring to deny minority groups their equal rights. The trial, which opened Tuesday at U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland in Greenbelt, addresses two of seven lawsuits challenging the addition of the question, which Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross announced in March. Ross’s announcement, which came days before a deadline to inform Congress about the contents of the decennial census, caused an outcry among statisticians, former Census Bureau directors, civil rights organizations and Democratic lawmakers.Full Article: Maryland trial on census citizenship question focuses on disenfranchisement in its first few days - The Washington Post.
National: Court Blocks Trump Administration From Asking About Citizenship in Census | The New York Times
A federal judge blocked the Commerce Department from adding a question on American citizenship to the 2020 census, handing a legal victory on Tuesday to critics who accused the Trump administration of trying to turn the census into a tool to advance Republican political fortunes. The ruling marks the opening round in a legal battle with potentially profound ramifications for federal policy and for politics at all levels, one that seems certain to reach the Supreme Court before the printing of census forms begins this summer. The upcoming census count will determine which states gain or lose seats in the House of Representatives when redistricting begins in 2021. When the Trump administration announced last year it was adding a citizenship question to the census, opponents argued the results would undercount noncitizens and legal immigrants — who tend to live in places that vote Democratic — and shift political power to Republican areas.Full Article: Court Blocks Trump Administration From Asking About Citizenship in Census - The New York Times.
The Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments early next year on lawsuits challenging the addition of a question about citizenship to the 2020 census, acting with unusual speed in a politically charged case. The justices will consider the Trump administration’s bid to limit the evidence that can be used in the challenge, which has been the subject of a trial in federal court in New York. The Supreme Court will hear arguments Feb. 19. Advocacy organizations and a New York-led group of a dozen states, cities and counties are suing, saying the citizenship question discriminates against immigrants and will reduce accuracy by lessening participation. A census undercount in areas with large numbers of non-citizens could shift congressional districts and federal dollars away from those communities.Full Article: Supreme Court Will Hear Fast-Track Arguments in Census Case - Bloomberg.
National: Counting change: The battle over a citizenship question on the 2020 census heats up | The Economist
Only six sentences into America’s constitution, the founders instructed Congress to conduct, within three years of its first meeting, an “actual enumeration” of people living in each state as well as additional headcounts “within every subsequent term of ten years”. But the decennial census involves much more than raw numbers. A state’s share of the national population determines how many seats in the House of Representatives—and how many electoral votes in presidential elections—it will control. It also dictates how $650bn in federal funds for services like education, road-building and disaster relief are divvied up among states and localities. Every decade, the census brings angst for states that fear they may lose congressional representation and excitement for those hoping to pick up a seat or two. But the looming 2020 census (America’s 24th) has caused particular concern, over what Steven Choi of the New York Immigration Coalition, an umbrella immigrant-rights organisation, calls a “more than fishy” decision to include a new question: “Is this person a citizen of the United States?”Full Article: The battle over a citizenship question on the 2020 census heats up - Counting change.
As the U.S. government closed a public comment period on Wednesday on its plans for the 2020 census, scientists, philanthropists and civil rights groups used the occasion to again criticize plans to include a question about U.S. citizenship. The comment period gave any member of the public a chance to comment on aspects of the census which is a mandatory, once-a-decade count of the U.S. population that next occurs in April 2020. The comments have not yet been published, but some groups and individuals reinforced their opposition to the Trump administration’s plan to ask census respondents whether they are U.S. citizens.Full Article: U.S. census citizenship question panned by scientists, civil rights groups | Reuters.
The Census Bureau is trying to quell concerns that it’s not prepared to protect Americans’ data from cyber intrusions when it conducts the first fully digital census in 2020. Kevin Smith, the Census Bureau’s chief information officer, used a little-publicized quarterly meeting Friday to explain how the agency is working with the Department of Homeland Security and using tools such as encryption to safeguard the troves of information it will gather in the next population count. “I want to stress that protection of the data we collect is census’s highest priority,” he said. Smith outlined some fairly basic steps, which are unlikely to satisfy a growing group of critics who say the bureau has for months avoided answering questions about its cybersecurity preparations. These critics, including members of the House Oversight Committee and former senior national security officials, argue the bureau, which is part the Commerce Department, has fallen behind on important equipment tests and left the public in the dark about whether it had implemented even minimal cybersecurity practices. They want more transparency at a time when Russian election hacks and other data breaches are increasingly putting Americans’ personal information at risk.Full Article: The Cybersecurity 202: The 2020 census could be a prime target for hackers - The Washington Post.
Are you an American citizen? The Trump administration really wants to know. In March, it added to the 2020 census a question asking people, for the first time in more than half a century, about their citizenship status. Administration officials have claimed, in public and before Congress, that the Justice Department needs the question answered in order to properly enforce the Voting Rights Act. But late last month, the government turned over a batch of emails as part of a federal lawsuit that casts significant doubt on those claims. The push to include the question has also set off concerns about the way such data might be used in the next decennial redistricting cycle, which begins in 2021. For perspective, the editorial board spoke with Vanita Gupta, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition of groups that is opposing the citizenship question. From 2014 to 2017, Ms. Gupta served as the acting head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division. The new documents give us evidence in black and white of something that many of us already suspected to be the case: The rationale that the Justice Department needs to go door-to-door to find out who is a citizen in order to enforce the Voting Rights Act is obviously a ruse.Full Article: Opinion | Why the Government Wants to Know Your Citizenship Status - The New York Times.
Nobody will write songs about the census. Among the fabled pillars underpinning the country’s democracy, the great American head count is often relegated to a dusty corner. In the nine interstitial years between each tally, analysis and development of a more perfect instrument take place mostly hidden from public view. There have been only 22 U.S. censuses—Presidents Ronald Reagan, John F. Kennedy, Abraham Lincoln, and Thomas Jefferson never administered one—but the rarity of the event has not assigned it a special blue-moon-like significance among the public. For most people, the census is a vague, decennial annoyance, nothing more. But the census is vital to the country’s functioning. It’s not just a count of all households or a measure of American characteristics. It’s also an augur of political, economic, and cultural forces—a predictor and an allocator of power. In times of social upheaval—between political parties, whites and nonwhites, urban and rural areas, economic elites and the working class—the census can function almost like an umpire. And today, when each of these intertwined conflicts is escalating, the incentive and ambition for working the ref are greater than they’ve ever been.Full Article: The 2020 Census Is in Trouble - The Atlantic.
A citizenship question on the 2020 census has already drawn challenges from states that fear an undercount of immigrants and a loss of federal funds. But demographers say there could be even deeper consequences: The question could generate the data necessary to redefine how political power is apportioned in America. Republicans officials, red states and conservatives behind a series of recent court cases have argued that districts historically allotted based on total population unfairly favor states and big cities with more undocumented immigrants, tilting power from states like Louisiana and Montana to California and New York. Congressional seats and state legislative districts should equally represent citizens or eligible voters, they say, not everyone.Full Article: A Census Question That Could Change How Power Is Divided in America - The New York Times.
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross had the authority to reintroduce the citizenship question on the 2020 census but, in exercising that authority, may have violated the rights of plaintiffs who are now suing, a federal judge ruled Thursday. U.S. District Judge Jesse M. Furman for the Southern District of New York rejected the government’s attempt to dismiss the lawsuit, which is challenging the Trump administration’s decision to add the question to the census. Furman stated that the plaintiffs “plausibly allege that Secretary Ross’ decision to reinstate the citizenship question on the 2020 census was motivated by discriminatory animus and that its application will result in a discriminatory effect.”Full Article: Judge allows lawsuit against citizenship question on the 2020 census to proceed | Sandhills Express.
Editorials: The Trump administration’s deception on the census should be a major scandal | Paul Waldman/The Washington Post
I realize that many times before you’ve been told, “If this weren’t the Trump administration where there’s a new scandal every day, this would be a major scandal.” You sighed and said, “I’m sure that’s true,” then moved on. But let me explain why the administration’s treatment of the U.S. census should, in fact, be a major scandal, particularly given some blockbuster news we just got. This scandal has a malign conspiracy, public lies, possible perjury, and an unrelenting assault not just on a core American institution enshrined in the Constitution but on democracy itself. As you may have heard, the Trump administration has decided to add a question to the 2020 Census asking whether those answering are U.S. citizens. It’s already widely known that it’s hard enough already to get people, particularly in immigrant communities, to answer the questions, because there’s not only concern about privacy but also fear that the census will be used to target people for harassment or even deportation.Full Article: The Trump administration’s deception on the census should be a major scandal - The Washington Post.
A few months after he started leading the Commerce Department, Secretary Wilbur Ross became impatient. As a powerful decider for the U.S. census, he had a keen interest in adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census as soon as possible. “I am mystified why nothing [has] been done in response to my months old request that we include the citizenship question. Why not?” he wrote in a May 2017 email to two Commerce Department officials. The email was among the more than 2,400 pages of internal documents the Trump administration filed in federal courts Monday as part of the lawsuits against Ross’ addition of a controversial citizenship question to the 2020 census. NPR has filed Freedom of Information Act requests for similar documents. The court filing also includes census-related articles by NPR and other news organizations compiled by federal agency press offices. The Commerce Department and the Census Bureau are facing six lawsuits from more than two dozen states and cities, plus other groups, that want the question removed.Full Article: Commerce Secretary Grew Impatient Over Census Citizenship Question, Emails Reveal : NPR.
National: Why Was a Citizenship Question Put on the Census? ‘Bad Faith,’ a Judge Suggests | The New York Times
From the moment it was announced in March, the decision to add a question about citizenship to the 2020 census was described by critics as a ploy to discourage immigrants from filling out the form and improve Republican political fortunes. The Commerce Department, which made the decision, insisted that sound policy, not politics, was its sole motivation. Now a federal lawsuit seeking to block the question has cast doubt on the department’s explanation and the veracity of the man who offered it, Commerce Secretary Wilbur L. Ross Jr. And it has given the plaintiffs in the suit — attorneys general for 17 states, the District of Columbia and a host of cities and counties — broad leeway to search for evidence that the critics are correct. In a hearing last week in the United States District Court in Manhattan, Judge Jesse M. Furman gave the plaintiffs permission to search government files and take sworn testimony from up to 10 administration officials in an effort to discover how and why the citizenship decision was made.Full Article: Why Was a Citizenship Question Put on the Census? ‘Bad Faith,’ a Judge Suggests - The New York Times.
National: Battle Lines Drawn Over the Census Citizenship Question: Challenges in Federal Courts Before the Count Begins | Rockefeller Institute of Government
The 2020 Census is fast becoming one of the most litigated, even before the actual enumeration has started. Six lawsuits over the addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 questionnaire are currently pending before federal courts in California, Maryland and New York. Also pending before a Maryland federal court is a case alleging that the federal Commerce Department’s Census Bureau is inadequately prepared to conduct the 2020 Census due to delayed program tests, insufficient funding and staff shortages, likely resulting in severe undercount of minorities. In an Alabama federal court, that state’s attorney general and a member of Congress are challenging the Census Bureau’s decision to include all U.S. residents in the numbers used for congressional apportionment. Two of the citizenship question cases are before New York Southern District Federal Judge Jesse Furman. Both are on fast tracks, with trials expected by late October or early November (unless Judge Furman grants the U.S. government’s motion to dismiss the case, which he said could come sometime in July).Full Article: Battle Lines Drawn Over the Census Citizenship Question: Challenges in Federal Courts Before the Count Begins | Rockefeller Institute of Government.