Oversight

House Dems push to subpoena Commerce over census question

Census 2020 By Maria Dryfhout Stock photo ID: 790714156 

All 18 Democrats on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee are calling for Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) to subpoena the Department of Commerce this week to produce documents relating to the decision to add a question about U.S. citizenship to the 2020 population survey.

"We believe these documents are critical for our committee to understand the concerns raised internally by career experts at the Census Bureau itself about the dangers of adding this untested new citizenship question to the Census — as well as why the Trump administration disregarded these concerns," the legislators wrote.

The move comes in the wake of a April 11 closed-door briefing with Census officials.

Committee Democrats left that briefing, which they pushed to be an open hearing, unsatisfied with the officials' responses and lack of clarity surrounding the inclusion of the citizenship question and decision-making process. Commerce officials told lawmakers, because of ongoing litigation, they hoped to make the requested documents publicly available by Memorial Day.

In the letter to Gowdy, Democrats said the response was "inadequate."

Gowdy has scheduled a full committee hearing with Census Bureau officials May 8. In advance of the hearing, Democrats are pushing Gowdy to compel Commerce to turn over documents relating to the citizenship question by May 6.

While the bureau hasn't provided much public explanation about the decision to include the citizenship question other than Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross's announcement, Census experts, advisers and the bureau itself have concerns about the lack of testing surrounding the question's impact on the accuracy and cost of the count.

Acting Census Director Ron Jarmin testified during a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing April 18 he would not characterize the impact of the question as "minimal."

"It could be, in some communities, important," he said.

Additionally, bureau has added "cost impacts of late changes" to the 2020 census form as a major risk area facing the success of the count.

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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