GAO-20-551R 1 (2020-06-09)

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A Report to Congressional Requesters


2020 Census



COVID-19 Presents Delays and Risks to Census Count


This correspondence is the third in a series of updates reporting on the Census
Bureau's (Bureau) 2020 Census activities and operations. This update includes
information from GAO's ongoing work on the status of 2020 Census operations
and challenges raised by COVID-1 9.
In March 2020, the Bureau decided to delay, suspend, or extend its upcoming
operations. In April, the Bureau suspended all field operations until June 1, 2020,
and extended its data collection through nonresponse follow-up (NRFU)-which
was originally planned to end on July 31-until October 31. In May, the Bureau
announced the restart of selected operations at 211 area census offices in all 50
states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico based on an assessment of
local conditions. The Bureau has requested statutory relief on the required dates
for delivering data to apportion seats in the House of Representatives among
states to the President and data for redistricting for elections to states, and
proposed delivering this information approximately 4 months later than originally
planned.
In recent years, GAO has identified challenges to the Bureau's ability to conduct
a cost-effective count of the nation, including new innovations, acquisition and
development of information technology (IT) systems, and other challenges. In
2017, these challenges led us to place the 2020 Census on GAO's High-Risk list.

Challenges to 2020 Census Operations Raised by COVID-1 9
Delays and changes to operations as a result of COVID-1 9 present further risks
to an accurate, timely, and cost-effective count. As operations resume, the
Bureau will need to consider multiple factors to ensure the implementation and
quality of the count, including:
    Continued attention to self-response. Self-response rates-the
    percentage of households that respond by internet, phone, or mail prior to
    receiving a visit-affect the quality and overall cost of conducting the census.
    The Bureau's self-response operation began on March 12. The Bureau's
    expected self-response rate was to reach 60.5 percent by June 10, 2020.
    The Bureau has received responses from 60.1 percent of households as of
    May 25. As part of its response to COVID-1 9, the Bureau has extended its
    self-response operation-which was originally planned to end July 31-until
    October 31.
*   Communicating pandemic plans to ensure continued operations. In
    response to COVID-19, the Bureau updated its Continuity of Operations Plan
    and made a number of procedural changes to operations. GAO has
    previously recommended that the Bureau develop a contingency plan for all
    risks requiring one, including major disasters such as a pandemic. As
    operations resume, the Bureau will need to distribute information to its area
    census offices that is timely, clear, and consistent regarding operational
    changes, work status, and pay. Less than half of respondents to our early
    April survey of area census office managers expressed satisfaction on
    survey questions about the clarity and timeliness of the Bureau's
    communication related to the pandemic.
*   Achieving and maintaining sufficient staffing levels. The census cannot
    be implemented effectively without sufficient staff. At the time the Bureau
                               __   United States Government Accountability Office


June 2020

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