March 5, 2010 No. 89
Census Confidentiality Trumps Patriot Act Provisions
Census Director: "We are ready to go."
The Rest of the News ...
CENSUS CONFIDENTIALITY TRUMPS PATRIOT ACT PROVISIONS, JUSTICE DEPARTMENT
The U.S. Department of Justice has concluded that Congress did not
intend to override the confidentiality protections in the Census Act
when it passed the so-called "Patriot Act" (Public Law 107-56, 115 Stat.
272, as amended) in the wake of the September 11th terrorist attacks.
Title 13, U.S.C., §§8, 9, 214, prohibit the Census Bureau and its
employees from sharing any personally identifiable information with any
other government agency, courts of law, or any outside entity, and set
forth severe penalties for violating the confidentiality of census
responses."[I]f Congress intended to override these protections," wrote
Assistant Attorney General for Legislative Affairs Ronald Weich in a
letter to members of Congress this week, "it would say so clearly and
explicitly." The chairs of the Congressional Asian Pacific American
Caucus (Rep. Michael Honda, D-CA), Congressional Black Caucus (Rep.
Barbara Lee, D-CA), and Congressional Hispanic Caucus (Rep. Nydia
Velazquez, D-NY), wrote to Attorney General Eric Holder in September
2009 at the urging of the Leadership Conference Education Fund and its
four national census campaign partner organizations (NAACP, NALEO
Educational Fund, Asian American Justice Center, and National Congress
of American Indians). The Asian American Legal Defense and Education
Fund (AALDEF) also urged the Attorney General in a December letter to
issue an opinion confirming the primacy of Census Act confidentiality
The lawmakers asked General Holder to determine whether the Patriot Act,
which includes information-gathering and information-sharing provisions,
"would supersede the confidentiality protections" in the Census Act.
"Distrust and fear triggered by uncertainty surrounding the Patriot
Act," the caucus chairmen wrote, "would further undermine efforts to
achieve an accurate census in already hard-to-count communities. "Mr.
Weich also noted the "long history of congressional enactments
protecting [census responses] from disclosure, as well as the
established precedents of the courts and this Department" in concluding
that "no provisions of [the Patriot Act] override otherwise applicable
Census Act provisions barring the Commerce Secretary and other covered
individuals from disclosing protected census information."
CENSUS DIRECTOR SAYS, "WE ARE READY TO GO,"AS ENUMERATION STARTS IN
Census takers are hand-delivering questionnaires in rural communities
and other areas without city-style addressing or with intermittent mail
delivery (including some Gulf Coast counties recovering from Hurricane
Katrina), Census Director Robert Groves told reporters at a press
conference on March 1. The "Update/Leave" operation covers 12 million
homes and about nine percent of the population. Most American households
will receive an advance letter from the Census Bureau next week, letting
them know to expect their census forms in the mail the week of March 15
and providing guidance in the five additional languages (Chinese,
Korean, Spanish, Russian, and Vietnamese) in which the census forms are
A thank you/reminder card will follow at the end of the month. The
director noted that testing showed the value of multiple contacts in
persuading households to mail back their forms. He told reporters that
forgetfulness or busy lifestyles, language and cultural barriers, and
the independence of young adults on their own for the first time were
primary reasons that people don't respond to the census. It costs 42
cents to count each household that mails back its questionnaire; the
cost rises to $57 for each household that requires a personal visit to
Dr. Groves told a Senate oversight panel last week that his agency is
"well on [its] way to executing the largest non-military mobilization in
the United States." Dr.Groves testified on February 23 before the
Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management, Government Information,
Federal Services and International Security (Committee on Homeland
Security and Governmental Affairs) on the status of key census operations.
At the hearing, the director highlighted successes in final preparations
for the 2010 enumeration, while also acknowledging "challenges that
remain." "[O]ur biggest risk is the uncertainty presented by the
American public's response to the census," the director said.
Recruitment is "well ahead of our goal" (117 percent as of January 24),
he testified, with two million potential hires already in the pipeline
for temporary census positions. Printing of questionnaires for various
enumeration operations (e.g. Nonresponse Follow-up; Mail-out/Mail-back;
Update/Leave; Group Quarters; replacement mailing) is "on track or ahead
of schedule," the director reported. Advance visits to group
facilities, to arrange enumeration times and procedures, took place in
Auditors concerned about IT systems readiness: The Commerce Department
Inspector General and the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO)
told senators at the oversight hearing that key IT systems that will
manage work flow and payroll for more than a million temporary census
workers still face potential performance problems.
Robert Goldenkoff, Director of Strategic Issues, GAO, said the Census
Bureau's "readiness for a successful count is mixed." He noted that
major enumeration activities are "generally on track" and that the
agency has addressed previously identified problems, but that "a
successful outcome is far from guaranteed." Mr. Goldenkoff added that
the Census Bureau "cannot conduct a successful enumeration on its own,"
calling the decennial census a "shared national undertaking."In his
quarterly report to Congress, Inspector General Todd Zinser highlighted
potential performance problems with the paper-based operations control
system (PBOCS) and said development and testing are still behind
schedule, despite staff "working at capacity." He recommended that the
Census Bureau focus its efforts on "minimizing the impact of PBOCS
limitations during operations." Mr. Zinser also reported on budget
overruns during the address canvassing operation, with "wide
sisparities" among Local Census Offices. While the IG outlined some
"inefficiencies" in travel reimbursement and training costs during last
spring's address list updating, he said similar problems "could be
expected for any major field operation." However, the IG warned that
differences between budgeted and actual costs "do not generate
confidence" in the Census Bureau's budgeting process for large field
The full set witness testimony from the hearing is available on the
Civil rights groups express optimism about census participation: The
leaders of several national civil rights organizations held a telephone
press briefing on March 1 "to emphasize the need for full participation"
in the census and to highlight the activities their organizations are
sponsoring at the national and local levels to encourage response in
historically hard-to-count communities. The organizations are working
together as part of the It's Time. Make Yourself Count. campaign,
spearheaded by the Leadership Conference Education Fund. Moderator
Hilary Shelton, NAACP Washington Office Director, described the
collaborative campaign's efforts as "focused on meeting people where
they are." Outreach activities organized by the campaign include
in-language assistance hotlines to help people fill out their census
forms, canvassing in low-income neighborhoods, distributing census
fliers in ethnic grocery stores, and sponsoring advertisements on buses,
radio, and in ethnic media. In addition to Mr. Shelton, representatives
of the NALEO Educational Fund, AAJC, and NCAI said they were optimistic
that the efforts of national advocates and community-based groups would
increase census participation in hard-to-count communities.
THE REST OF THE NEWS ...
House recognizes importance of census: The House of Representatives
passed a resolution (H.Res. 1096) on March 3 designating March 2010 as
"Census Awareness Month." Sponsored by Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-TX), the
measure (which only requires passage by the House of Representatives)
encourages everyone living in the United States to participate in the
census "to ensure an accurate and complete count." The measure was
approved by a vote of 409 - 1, with Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) voting "no" and
Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT) voting "present." Utah, which failed to gain a
fourth congressional district after the 2000 census, filed two
unsuccessful lawsuits against the Census Bureau, challenging the
exclusion of Mormon missionaries stationed overseas in the state
population totals used for congressional apportionment, as well as the
Census Bureau's use of statistical methods to impute missing people into
the count. H.Res. 1096 also urges state, local, and tribal governments
and other organizations to promote participation in the decennial count.
There were several Republicans among the 56 original cosponsors,
including the Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Information Policy,
Census, and National Archives, Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC).
The House approved a second resolution (H.Res. 1086) by the same vote
count on March 4, recognizing "the importance and significance of the
2010 census" and encouraging Indian Country communities to designate "an
elder" to answer the census first. Sponsored by Rep. Joe Baca (D-CA),
the measure notes the "trusted" position of elders within Indian
communities and suggests that they can influence other members of their
tribes to participate in the census. Post-census evaluations have shown
a disproportionately high undercount of American Indians and Alaska
Natives, especially on reservations, in recent censuses.
House committee approves deceptive mailing bill: The House Committee on
Oversight and Government Reform yesterday unanimously approved
legislation (H.R. 4621) that would require organizations that use the
word "census" on their mailings to indicate clearly that the item is not
from or affiliated with the federal government and to include the
sender's name and return address. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), the
bill's sponsor, said that non-Census Bureau envelopes bearing phrases
such as "Congressional District Census" and "Official Document"
confusing people into believing that they have completed their official
census form, lowering the census response rate." The congresswoman, a
long time member of the census oversight subcommittee, said private
organizations were "piggy-backing" on the Census Bureau's multi-million
dollar advertising and promotion campaign, "at great cost to all
Americans. "Both Democrats and Republicans on the committee criticized
recent mailings by the Republican National Committee, senior citizen
advocacy groups, and others that have tried to capitalize on the
upcoming census to draw attention to their fundraising appeals.
For more information on the "Prevent Deceptive Census Look Alike
Mailings Act," see the February 10 Census News Brief #87 on the Census
Number of Census partners hits 200K: The number of official 2010 Census
Partners reached 200,000, far exceeding the 140,000 partner
organizations for Census 2000, when the program started. The Census
Bureau announced that partners had donated more than 35,000 locations
for training census workers, saving the agency $339 million in rental
costs. Dr. Groves praised the "important role" of partners in
"motivating people to fill out and mail back their census
questionnaires." The Bureau emphasized that partners "play no role in
official census operations and do not conduct the census;" critics of
former census partner ACORN had suggested that the nonprofit group would
hire staff to go door-to-door to collect information from unresponsive
The Unity Diaspora Coalition, a group of leading Black organizations led
by the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation and the National
Urban League, and members of the Congressional Black Caucus, held a
press conference on March 3 at the U.S. Capitol to mark the 30 day
countdown to Census Day and to launch a series of events in nine states
to encourage Black Americans to participate in the census. UDC
activities in March will include town hall meetings and poster and
social media competitions. The Coalition also is urging Black
immigrants to check the "Black/African American" box in the census race
question (question #9 for Person 1) and to write-in their national
origin in the space provided next to "Some other race. "The U.S.
Chamber of Commerce, a member of the Census Bureau's 2010 Census
Advisory Committee, signed on an official 2010 Census Partner. Dr.
Martin Regalia, the Chamber's chief economist, said that census data
"makes for good government but it is also essential for businesses
making investment and operational decisions . to locate retail stores
and facilities, to plan marketing campaigns, delineate markets and a
host of other uses." The organization represents more than three
million businesses, as well as industry associations, and has local
chapters throughout the country.
Voto Latinounveiled its New York Census Campaign at a press conference
in Albany last week. The campaign includes Public Service
Announcements featuring Latino
entertainers such as Rosario Dawson (the group's founder), Wilmer
Valderrama, and Jorge Garcia. Time Warner Cable will broadcast the PSAs
using its multimedia capabilities.
Volunteers organized by Moving Forward Gulf Coast Inc. canvassed
neighborhoods in New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward to draw attention to the
upcoming census and explain the counting process. Orleans Parish is one
of several along the Gulf Coast that are designated "Update/Leave"
areas, where census takers will drop off questionnaires and update the
address list, looking for housing units that might have been overlooked
in previous census operations. "Update/Leave" is used primarily in
areas without city-style addressing; the Dallas Regional Census Office
decided to use the modified enumeration procedure in selected parishes
and counties still recovering from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
Univision, the Spanish-language media company, will air a half-hour long
program on March 27 to provide instructions on how to fill out the
census questionnaire. The program will run at 11:00AM Eastern, 10:00AM
Central, and 11:00AM Pacific time.
Fremont, CA, kicked off its 2010 census effort to promote participation
in the Alameda County city yesterday. The public celebration at the
Fremont Senior Center featured Census Bureau staff, printed materials,
and promotional items.
The City of Lincoln, Alabama (population: around 5,000) is holding a
Census Lottery to encourage residents to mail back their census forms.
According to a February 24th article in The Daily Home newspaper, the
mayor and members of the city council are personally contributing $1,500
for three prizes, including one for the resident who comes closet to
guessing the city's official population count. People can drop off
their completed census forms in a locked box at City Hall and put their
Lincoln Census Lottery form in another container.
The Census Project sent a letter
to House and Senate appropriators, urging their support for President
Obama's Fiscal Year 2011 budget request for the Census Bureau.
Associations participating in the project noted the importance of final
2010 census activities, including data tabulation and publication, as
well as early research and development for the 2020 count.
Census stakeholders also expressed their support for the
Administration's proposed initiative to increase the size of the
American Community Survey sample, "to preserve the scientific integrity
of the survey and improve the collection of reliable data on smaller
population groups (such as ethnic and language minorities)." See the
February 1 Census News Brief
for more information on the FY2011 budget request.
NEW RESOURCES FOR CENSUS ADVOCATES
TheThe Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution, which
provides research and policy ideas to help decision makers address the
eeds of metropolitan areas, will release a report, Counting for Dollars:
The Role of the Decennial Census in the Geographic Distribution of
Federal Funds, on Tuesday, March 9. The report analyzes census-driven
federal program funding for Fiscal Year 2008, the latest data available,
and includes program-by-program allocation tables for states, the 200
largest counties, and the 100 largest metropolitan areas.
The Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire issued a new
report, Rural Areas Risk Being Overlooked in the 2010 Census
by Dr. William O'Hare, Senior Fellow, The Annie E. Casey Foundation.
The report concludes that while rural areas are easier to count than
urban communities, there are pockets of hard-to-count populations in
rural America, including Blacks in the South, Hispanics in the Southwest
border region, and American Indians living on reservations in the
Southwest and Northern Plains. The author notes several
characteristics, including poverty and low educational attainment, that
put some segments of the rural population at greater risk of an undercount.
LatinoJustice PRLDEF, a national advocacy and educational organization
that uses legal resources to advance civil rights and civic
participation for Latinos, established a 2010 Census Latino Outreach and
Civic Participation Project. Go to
for materials and information that highlight the linkage between census
data and political empowerment.
TheLeadership Conference Education Fundhas prepared several new fact
sheets focused on counting children in the census. The materials
highlight how families and communities benefit from an accurate count of
children and offer guidance on how to account properly for children on
census forms. The fact sheets are available at
TheIranians Count 2010 Census Coalition, a collaborative effort of 30
organizations dedicated to ensuring the collection of accurate data on
the Iranian American population, launched its official website,
The site features information on the importance of census
participation and PSAs in English and Persian.
Census News Briefs are prepared by Terri Ann Lowenthal,an independent
legislative and policy consultant specializing in the census and federal
statistics. All views expressed in the News Briefs are solely those of
the author. Please direct questions about the information in this News
Brief to Ms. Lowenthal at TerriAnn2K(a)aol.com
[mailto:TerriAnn2K@aol.com]. Please feel free to circulate this
document to other interested individuals and organizations. Ms.
Lowenthal is a consultant to the nonpartisan Census Project, organized
by the Communications Consortium Media Center in Washington, DC.
Previous Census News Briefs are posted at www.thecensusproject.org
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