For the 2020 Census, the Census Bureau plans to have only half as many regional census offices (six instead of 12) and area census offices (248 instead of 494) as were used in the 2010 Census. That spurred Rep. Jimmy Panetta (D-CA-20) and 54 of his House colleagues to reach out to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross with concerns about how this could exacerbate potential undercount in rural, low-income and minority communities.

The Bureau intends to compensate for the decreased footprint in the field by using “technology to efficiently and effectively manage the 2020 Census fieldwork, and as a result, reduce the staffing, infrastructure, and brick and mortar footprint required for the 2020 Census.” However, Panetta and his colleagues shared skepticism that “lower projected self-response rates, reduced local presence, and increased reliance on automation” still pose a significant problem.

The letter asked Ross specifically:

  1. "What formula did the Bureau rely upon to determine ACO locations?"
  2. "Did the Bureau reassess ACO allocation after the cost estimate projected a self-response rate decrease?"
  3. "Does the Bureau plan to provide additional field resources, through additional ACOs or questionnaire assistance centers, to increase response rates in rural areas, communities with decreased internet access and use, and traditionally hard to count communities?"
  4. "What is the plan to increase response rates in rural, minority, and low-income communities that have disproportionately lower rates of internet access and use?"

It is presumably too late to add more regional or area census offices, because of the cost/planning involved in securing the real estate, so questionnaire assistance centers present a more most flexible way the Bureau could deploy in the field to encourage self-response, since they can be set up as kiosks in existing community locations, such as churches, libraries or retail stores.

The Congressmen concluded that, “Rural and minority communities receive a disproportionate share of federal resources to pay for education, healthcare, nutrition assistance, hospitals, and child care. Communities currently suffering economic anxiety cannot afford to lose federal resourcing due to a lack of Census accuracy.”

Read Panetta’s letter to Secretary Ross.