Following Court Order, Trump Admin Puts Census Count On More Solid Footing — For Now

HYATTSVILLE, MD JANUARY 23: Julia Aviles Zavala sounds the afternoon interviewing Central Americans for the 2020 census in Hyattsville, Maryland on January, 23, 2020. (Photo by Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post vi... HYATTSVILLE, MD JANUARY 23: Julia Aviles Zavala sounds the afternoon interviewing Central Americans for the 2020 census in Hyattsville, Maryland on January, 23, 2020. (Photo by Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post via Getty Images) MORE LESS

The Census Bureau sent out new guidance to its regional directors after a federal judge temporarily stopped the Trump administration from “winding down or altering any census field operations,” according to a Tuesday court filing.

The lawsuit, led by the National Urban League, aims to stop the administration from chopping the timeline for census data collection from eight months to four. 

The guidance targets a lot of the on-the-ground work census workers do, including having workers resume making six contact attempts to make sure that a housing unit is vacant and reintroducing random cases to reinterview.

“The order puts the largest, most complex census operation —  which is the door-knocking phase — back on more solid footing, in my opinion,” said Terri Ann Lowenthal, a consultant who is a well-regarded expert on the census. “It takes the pressure off of census workers to rush through data collection at a time when that work should take more time, not less, because of the disruption and displacement of people and even entire households caused by the pandemic.” 

Earlier this month, the administration severely curtailed the time census workers had to collect and review data, a decision in contradiction to the advice of the Bureau’s own experts. That announcement came on the heels of President Donald Trump’s directive to exclude undocumented immigrants from apportionment data which determines, among other things, how many House seats each state gets.

The temporary halt is better than nothing, said Lowenthal. “I don’t think the court order has created any more chaos than the administration’s unexplained, sudden decision in early August to abandon its request for an extended timeframe for the census and for reporting data and for reporting the results,” she said.

But the relief is, by nature, temporary. In a Tuesday filing, attorneys for the administration essentially asked the judge to hurry up and decide if the temporary restraining order will last beyond September 17 so they can appeal. 

“If the Court intends to extend the TRO or otherwise believes that the effect of the TRO lasts beyond September 17, Defendants respectfully request that the Court convert the TRO to a preliminary injunction now in order to afford adequate time for any appellate review,” DOJ lawyers stated in the filing.

Two former U.S. chief statisticians slammed the administration’s actions in a Tuesday opinion piece in the Washington Post. 

“The Trump administration’s current actions do not meet OMB requirements or the Census Bureau’s own quality guidelines,” they wrote. “Existing safeguards have not been sufficient to deter efforts to derail one of our country’s most fundamental civic activities. Congress must act to keep federal statistics independent from partisan interference.”

Read the newest filing in the National Urban League case here:

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