Phil Sparks and Mary Jo Hoeksema, co-directors of the Census Project, discuss the challenges the census faces before their 2020 tally, and the biggest changes to the census this time around.
The Census Bureau is entering the final phase of it’s 2020 preparations. But as the next country-wide headcount looms, the agency is facing some major challenges. U.S. Census CIO Kevin Smith recently detailed how the agency will secure the data they collect, but Phil Sparks, co-director at the Census Project, says that’s not the only tech issue they could face. “In the census I worked on, it was all paper forms. It’s not this time, you will get a paper form if you need one, but basically they are hoping that more than 50 percent of the public will look at the form and do it online,” said Sparks. “Then you think about what that all entails, cybersecurity… aggregating all that data. Remember, Obamacare didn’t work so well when they asked everybody to put their forms in the beginning. Well, now you have Obamacare times three or four because there’s 130 million households that will be submitting their forms at the same time. It is a big job and it is going to take a lot of talent and effort to get it done.” Mary Jo Hoeksema, co-director of the Census Project, said that there haven’t been any “big busts” like 2010’s handheld census devices, but the Trump administration’s proposed citizenship question is introducing some difficulties. “[The citizenship question] has been a major diversion, if you will, of resources and attention for stakeholders, census bureau officials, administration officials and Congress alike,” said Hoeksema. “We’re all very concerned about how that’s going to play out, and we just don’t know because the question hasn’t been cognitively tested or tested in the field. We don’t know what the costs are going to be as a result of that question being added. We don’t know how it’s going to affect the undercount potentially, as well as the conduct of the Census.”