Are postal carriers out as potential census takers?

Census 2020 By Maria Dryfhout Stock photo ID: 790714156 

Lawmakers are pressing the Census Bureau on its decision to ditch a pilot program that would test using postal workers as part of the enumeration.

In October 2017, Commerce Department Secretary Wilbur Ross testified before a Senate panel that the department was “in negotiations” with the U.S. Postal Service to use its carriers part-time during the 2018 end-to-end test in Providence, R.I.

While the Government Accountability Office found in 2011 that using postal carriers "would not be cost-effective," the idea behind the plan was that postal workers would be familiar with the blocks that needed to be canvassed and that they could potentially overcome feelings of governmental mistrust that factor into low census response rates.

However, as Census prepares to enter its 2018 test, the bureau abandoned that plan for the dress rehearsal, according to a letter from a bipartisan group of members of the House Oversight Committee.

"As a result, this concept is not likely to be utilized during the 2020 decennial Census," wrote Reps. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), Gerald Connolly (D-Va.) and Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.)

According to the letter, the bureau cited "a conflict in law related to data privacy" as why it was no longer pursuing its plans to use postal carriers in the 2018 test, but the signatories question what "purported conflict in law" Census is referring to.

Specifically, the lawmakers asked Ross explain the legal impediments to using postal carriers to canvass blocks, as well as an explanation of what changes in law or actions would need to be taken to allow postal carriers to work for Census during the 2018 test. They requested a response by March 19.

The committee had previously stated plans to hold a hearing with Ross March 8, but no hearing has been officially scheduled.

About the Author

Chase Gunter is a staff writer covering civilian agencies, workforce issues, health IT, open data and innovation.

Prior to joining FCW, Gunter reported for the C-Ville Weekly in Charlottesville, Va., and served as a college sports beat writer for the South Boston (Va.) News and Record. He started at FCW as an editorial fellow before joining the team full-time as a reporter.

Gunter is a graduate of the University of Virginia, where his emphases were English, history and media studies.

Click here for previous articles by Gunter, or connect with him on Twitter: @WChaseGunter


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