Scheduling of the 2000 Decennial Census

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1999-02-01.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

      United States

GAO   General Accounting Office
      Washington, D.C. 20548

      General   Government   Division


      February 1,1999

      The Honorable Judd Gregg
      The Honorable Ernest F. Hollings
      Ranking Minority Member
      Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, and State,
        the Judiciary, and Related Agencies
      Committee on Appropriations
      United States Senate

      Subject: Scheduling of the 2000 Decennial Census

      This letter responds to our mandate in Senate Report 105235 concerning the impact of
      delaying the 2000 Decennial Census and options to ensure its success. Because the Census
      Bureau encountered a number of operational problems in its recent dress rehearsal for the
      2000 Census, the Committee was concerned about whether the basic components for a
      successful census are in place.

      As agreed with your offices, this letter describes (1) the basis for the scheduling of Census
      Day and the time frame for reporting population counts to the President, Congress, and the
      states, and (2) the requirements driving states’needs for census data by spectic dates. As
      also agreed, we will provide the Subcommittee with additional information on operational
      issues facing the Census Bureau as the information becomes available.

      To describe the basis for the scheduling of Census Day and the time frame for reporting
      population counts, we analyzed the constitutional and statutory provisions affecting the
      decennial census schedule. To describe the requirements affecting states’needs for census
      data we reviewed available Bureau documents that discuss the scheduling of the census and
      redistricting data developed by the Redistricting Task Force of the National Conference of
      State Legislatures. We also interviewed an official of the Census Bureau’s Redistricting Data
      Office. To help verify this information and obtain additional perspectives on how delays in
      the reporting of census redistricting data might affect the states, we interviewed redistricting
      officials in Kansas, Louisiana, New Jersey, Texas, and Virginia These states were
      judgmentally selected to provide diverse locations and thus a diverse range of state

      On January 25,1999, we requested comments on a draft of this letter from the Secretary of
      Commerce, or his designated representative, by January 29,1999. None were provided in this
      time frame. A senior Census Bureau official updated some information the Bureau had
      previously given us concerning the delivery of census data to the states. We did our audit

      Page 1                                         GAOKGD-99-32R   Scheduling   of the 2000 Decennial   Census

work in Washington, D-C., between October 1998 and January 1999 in accordance with
generally accepted government auditing standards.

Results in Brief
The scheduling of the decennial census is determined by constitutional mandate and federal
statutory deadlines. The Constitution requires a census every 10 years to determine legislative
apportionment. The first decennial census was conducted in 1790, and in keeping with the
constitutional prescription, a census has been conducted every 10 years since then.

Statutory provisions, rather than the Constitution, set forth the specific date on which the
census is to take place, as well as the time frames in which census data must be presented to
the President, Congress, and the states for purposes of legislative apportionment. Current
provisions mandate April 1 as the decennial census date. In the past, other dates within the
decennial year have also been used for Census Day.

The scheduling of the census must also accommodate states’needs for census data.
According to the sources we contacted, states use the data for congressional and state
legislative redistricting. State constitutions and statutes require states to complete their
redistricting plans by a certain date, while provisions of the Voting Rights Act also may have
an impact on when redistricting plans need to be completed for certain states. Failure to
complete a redistricting plan on time can, depending on the state, result in costly special
legislative sessions, subject the state to litigation, and possibly delay scheduled elections.

The decennial census is the nation’s most comprehensive and expensive statistical data-
gathering program. The Constitution requires a decennial census of the population in order to
reapportion seats in the House of Representatives. The Constitution vests Congress with the
authority to conduct the decennial census in such manner as it determines, and Congress in
turn has granted the Secretary of Commerce considerable latitude in carrying out the census.

Census data are used by states to redraw the boundaries of congressional districts whether or
not the state’s apportionment of representatives is changed. States also use census data to
draw the boundaries for state legislative districts, board of education districts, public service
districts, and parishes. Although there is no federal requirement for states to use census data
for any of these purposes, states have done so because census data are the most accurate and
complete available, and because using them obviates the need for states to conduct their own
population counts.

 Census data are used for many other purposes as well. They include allocating government
 funding as well as a variety of public and private sector planning and evaluation activities,
 such as selecting sites for schools and health clinics, and market research.

 Despite the decennial census’importance to the nation, however, the Bureau’s readiness for
 the 2000 Census remains an open question. In our past reviews of the Bureau’s preparations

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for the 2000 Census, we have identified a number of major challenges and uncertainties that
have led us to conclude that the 2000 Census faces the risk of being less accurate and more
costly than previous censuses.’For example, Congress and the administration have long
disagreed over the design of the census because of congressional concerns over legal and
methodological issues surrounding the Bureau’s planned use of statistical sampling. On
January 251999, the Supreme Court ruled that the Census Act prohibits the Bureau from
using sampling for purposes of congressional apportionment. Although the Bureau had been
developing plans for a nonsampling census, little time remains for the Bureau to finalize such
an approach. Moreover, the Bureau faces a number of formidable challenges to a successful
census irrespective of the sampling issue. These challenges include such critical census-
taking operations as building an accurate address list, securing an acceptable level of public
cooperation through outreach and promotion, and completing field operations effectively and

The Constitution Establishes the
Census Year
The year in which a census must be conducted is prescribed by the Constitution. The
Constitution requires that “Representatives . . . shall be apportioned among the several States
. . . according to their respective Numbers” and that “[t]he actual Enumeration shall be made
within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress.. .and within every subsequent Term
of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct.” The first decennial census took
place in 1790, and consistent with the Constitutional mandate, one has been conducted every
10 years since then.

Statutes Establish Census Day and Reporting Time Frames
Although the Constitution prescribes the year in which a decennial census is to be conducted,
it does not specify an actual date. Thus, for the current census cycle, it could be argued that
the constitutional requirement for a decennial census would be satisfied if the census were
conducted at any time during the year 2000. The specific date for the census is established by

Since 1790, when the first census was conducted, there have been several different census
dates. The dates for the first four decennial censuses were August 2,4,6, and 7, respectively.
The date of the next eight censuses (1830-1900) was June 1. The 1910 Census was conducted
on April 15, and the 1920 Census was conducted on January 1. Since 1930, the decennial
census has been conducted on April 1. The April 1 date has been mandated by statute since

’See, for example, 2000 Census: Premrations for Dress Rm     Leave Manv IJnanswered &estiQDs (GAO/GGD-98-74, Mar. 26,
                                       ..     .
1998) and .&&mance      and Accou&bihtv    SSe                                           i       Denartment of
a           (GAO/OCG993, Jan. 1999).

Page 3                                                     GAOIGGD-99-32R   Scheduling   of the 2000 Decennial   Census

the 1960 Census.’Thus, under current law, the Secretary of Commerce is required to conduct
the next decennial census on April 1,200O.

The timetable for reporting population counts derived from census data is also mandated by
statute. The Census Act requires the Secretary to tabulate the “total population by States” and
report these data to the President for purposes of congressional reapportionment within 9
months after the census date.3

Once the President receives the census data, he must transmit to Congress a statement
showing the total number of persons in each state as ascertained by the decennial census and
the number of representatives to which each state is entitled. The President must transmit
this statement “on the first day, or within 1 week thereafter, of the first regular session of the
Eighty-second Congress and of each fifth Congress thereafter. . ..“’ Thus, for purposes of
reapportionment following the 2000 Census, the President is required to transmit the
statement to Congress on the first day, or within 1 week, of the first regular session of the
 107th Congress, which will begin in January 2001.

The Census Act also requires the Secretary of Commerce to send census population
tabulations to the states as expeditiously as possible, but no later than 1 year after the April 1
decennial census date.5These tabulations, which are used by the states for redistricting, are
broken out by various geographical levels within a state, such as counties and census blocks.
After the 2000 Decennial Census is conducted, current law requires the Secretary to report
census tabulations to the states by April 1,200l.

States Need Census Data by Certain Dates
Another requirement affecting the scheduling of the census is the states’dependence on
receiving census data by certain dates. States rely on census data for redrawing their
congressional and state legislative boundaries, and have established requirements for
completing their redistricting predicated on April 1 being Census Day.

According to a Bureau redistricGng document, failure to meet redistricting deadlines can,
depending on the state, result in costly special legislative sessions, subject the state to
litigation, delay scheduled elections, and possibly have other consequences. For example, a
Texas redistricting official we interviewed noted that failure to complete the state’s
redistricting on tune could result in the transfer of its redistricting authority to a five member
state redistricting board.

 ’ 13 USC 9 141(a).

 9 13 U.S.C. 5 141(b).

 ’ 2 U.S.C. 0 2a(a).

 z 13 U.S.C. 5; 141(c).

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During the 1991 redistricting cycle, more than two-thirds of the states were required to
complete their redistricting within 1 year of Census Day. In some cases, however, states need
census data well before the l-year deadline. For example, in 2001, all members of the Viiginia
House of Delegates and members of some county governing bodies and school boards will be
elected. Consequently, Virginia needs redistricting data as early as possible in the year
following the 2000 Census. New Jersey is also scheduled to hold legislative elections in 2001.

Other legal mandates also affect the time frame in which some states must complete their
redistricting efforts. According to the Redistricting Task Force of the National Conference of
State Legislatures, 16 states may be required to submit their legislative and/or congressional
redistricting plans to the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division for “preclearance.”
These reviews are required under section 5 of the 1965Voting Rights Act and can take up to
90 days or more to complete. Lf additional data or reviews are needed, the review time is to be

In the 1970s the Bureau established a program to provide for the timely delivery of census
data to the states for redistricting purposes. This program is intended to encourage
cooperation between the Bureau and the states and to identify which data are needed for
redistricting and when the states need the data.

The delivery dates for data from the 1990 Census, agreed upon with the states, ranged from
January 15,1991, to March 8,1991, which were weeks earlier than the April 1 deadline
specified by federal statute. According to a senior Bureau official, for the 2000 Census cycle,
the Bureau is reexaminin g its schedule for delivering census data to the states by the April 1
deadline required by law. This reexamination is being done in light of the Supreme Court’s
recent ruling that the Census Act prohibits the Bureau from using sampling for purposes of
congressional apportionment.

Overall, while the Constitution does not specify the day on which the decennial census must
be taken, April 1 is designated as Census Day by federal statute, and an elaborate chain of
post-census needs for the data is predicated upon that date.

We are sending copies of this letter to the Chairman and Ranking Minority Member of the
Senate Committee on Appropriations; the Chairman and Ranking Minority Member of the
House Committee on Appropriations; the Chairman and Ranking Minoriiy Member of the

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Senate Committee on Governmental Af%irs; the Chairman and Ranking Minority Member of
the Subcommittee on the Census, House Committee on Government Reform; the Secretary of
Commerce; and the Director of the Bureau of the Census. Copies will be made available to
others on request. Please contact me on (202) 512-8786if you have any questions.

J. Christopher Mihm
Associate Director, Federal Management
   and Workforce Issues

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