Commerce IG Calls Out Trump Census Director For Sketchy Demand For Immigrant Data

WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 24: U.S Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham testifies before the House Oversight Committee on July 24, 2019 in Washington, DC.The hearing focused on the recent push by the Trump administration to include a citizenship question on the 2020 Census, which has since been abandoned. (Photo by Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 24: U.S Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham testifies before the House Oversight Committee on July 24, 2019 in Washington, DC. The hearing focused on the recent push by the Trump administra... WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 24: U.S Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham testifies before the House Oversight Committee on July 24, 2019 in Washington, DC. The hearing focused on the recent push by the Trump administration to include a citizenship question on the 2020 Census, which has since been abandoned. (Photo by Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images) MORE LESS
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January 12, 2021 6:52 p.m.

The efforts by President Trump’s cronies to politicize census data have continued to the bitter end of his administration, according to new information from the Commerce Department’s inspector general.

Trump appointees at the Census Bureau have “recently” been pressuring the Census Bureau’s experts to produce by the end of this week a “technical report” on undocumented immigrant data, according to a letter from Inspector General Peggy Gustafson Tuesday. Her letter was sent to Census Director Steve Dillingham, who was appointed by Trump,  and she identified Dillingham as being among the appointees who had been making the demand.

“Bureau whistleblowers believe this report is being rushed without legitimate reason and will result in an inferior Bureau product,” the inspector general alleged in the letter.

Dillingham told the career experts that producing the report should be their “number one priority,” according to her letter. He also looked into providing a financial incentive to speed up the production of the report, the inspector general said.

The “driving forces” behind the request, according to the letter, appeared to be Nathaniel Cogley and Benjamin Overholt, two political appointees the White House installed at the bureau last year under controversial circumstances.

The inspector general has requested Dillingham to respond to several question about the immigrant data project by Thursday. She may also seek to interview him, under oath, after she reviews his answers.

“Why is the report ‘a number one priority,’ and, separately, who set the report as a priority for the Bureau?” she asked.

The exact timing of when the directive was made is not clear from the letter. The inspector general’s office also said that they “understand this deadline may no longer be in effect.”

The apparent demand for the report on immigrant data comes as Trump’s hopes that he could exclude undocumented immigrants from the congressional apportionment process have slipped away. Due to routine delays in the 2020 census data processing,  the population counts used for congressional apportionment won’t be released until later this spring, as the Justice Department has confirmed in litigation over Trump census maneuverings.

The IG’s letter suggests that Dillingham and the other appointees continued to pressure the bureau’s experts for the “technical report” on immigrant data even after the delays were identified in the census data processing.

“What is the impact of the prioritization of the technical report on the timeline for completing the apportionment count?” the inspector general asked Dillingham in the letter. “Please explain any such impact. If you believe there is no impact, please explain.”

Citing whistleblower communications with her office, the inspector general in her letter raised serious concerns that the Census Bureau’s data quality standards were being circumvented by the demands that the report be produced this week.

“One senior Bureau employee went as far to say that this work is statistically indefensible,” the letter said.

Some of the immigrant data sets that the Census Bureau was being asked to analyze were coming from outside the Bureau, the letter said, and “employees worry that their unfamiliarity with the data sets could lead to bias or mischaracterizations of the data.”

“Bureau officials are concerned that incomplete data could be misinterpreted, misused, or otherwise tarnish the Bureau’s reputation,” the letter said.

Read the letter below:

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