Census Advisory Panel Blasts Trump Admin Move To Add Citizenship Question

U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao deliver keynote remarks during the U.S.-Japan Council's annual conference at the J.W. Marriott November 13, 2017 in Washington, DC.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images North America

A Census Bureau advisory body criticized the Trump administration’s move to add a citizenship question to the upcoming decennial survey.

We have concerns about the lack of adequate testing, about the implications for nonresponse (unit and item), implications for the cost, and implications for the attitudes about the Census Bureau and concerns about confidentiality,” the Census Scientific Advisory Committee said, in a statement that was drafted during a meeting held at Census headquarters Thursday and Friday.

There is a hierarchy of needs for the decennial census, with an accurate count of foremost importance, so any proposed changes should be evaluated in consideration of the potential impact on completeness and accuracy,” the panel said.

The statement — directed to the acting director of the Census Bureau, Ron Jarmin — said that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross had used “flawed logic” in justifying his decision, announced earlier this week. Ross said in a memo released Monday that he had not been presented evidence that adding the citizenship question would make the survey less accurate.

Fundamentally, the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. In other words, just because there is not clear evidence that adding the question would harm the census accuracy, this is not evidence that it will not,” the advisory panel’s statement said.

The panel also noted that the evidence that Ross did cite to defend the move came from the American Community Survey, a much smaller survey that the Census conducts on a rolling basis. That evidence, the panel noted, “came from data collected in a different data collection context, in a different political climate, before anti-immigrant attitudes were as salient and consequential.”

The panel called for more study of how adding the question would affect the 2020 survey, and urged the Census Bureau to be “proactive about communications countering false information published through social media.”

The statement is just the latest in a slew of criticism launched at the Trump administration’s move. Ross reportedly overruled the counsel of career staff in adding the question. Five former Census directors, who served under both Democratic and Republican administrations, also signed a letter to Ross earlier this year warning that the effect of adding the question is “completely unknown.”

The state of California has already filed a lawsuit challenging the move, and more lawsuits are expected.



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