Report: Census hasn't tested tasks to catch false answers

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ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — With six weeks to go until most U.S. residents start filling out the 2020 Census questionnaire, an Inspector General’s report says the Census Bureau hasn’t tested a new process designed to help catch false answers.

The Inspector General's report released last week reviewed a 2018 test-run in Rhode Island of the once-a-decade head count, focusing on operations in which census takers go into neighborhoods seeking answers from homes where residents haven't filled out their forms.

The report found that the Census Bureau had planned to test the quality of the data collected from the forms by sending out census takers to homes where respondents gave suspicious answers. But the budget kept the bureau from testing the new plan in Rhode Island, and “the untested process presents risk to the quality of 2020 Census data," the Inspector General's report said.

The bureau also has a plan to have census takers re-interview residents at some homes that already have been visited by a Census Bureau worker in order to serve as a check against any worker who gives falsified answers. But the bureau was unable to fully test the plan in Rhode Island because of a staffing shortage, the report said.

The Inspector General's report said that some census takers were sent out to neighborhoods, during the test-run, before the bureau could verify they were trained properly. The report also noted that managers didn't respond to alerts about problems with census takers in 15 percent of cases.

The 2020 Census is the first ever in which the Census Bureau is encouraging most respondents to answer the questionnaire online, although people can still respond by telephone or by mailing back paper forms. The 2020 count will help determine the allocation of $1.5 trillion in federal spending and how many congressional seats each state gets.

In its response to the Inspector General's r eport, the Census Bureau said it had recently tested some parts of the plan meant to catch false answers. The bureau also said it had fixed a defect that had prevented it from recording the training-test scores of census takers. Regarding the alert system, the bureau said there were a number of alerts that were issued in error.

“We concur in the recommendations and believe we have already addressed all of them," said Steven Dillingham, the Census Bureau's director, in a letter to the Inspector General.


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