Senator Lankford Questions Administration Officials on 2020 Census
WASHINGTON, DC – Senator James Lankford (R-OK) today had the opportunity to question officials from the US Census Bureau within the US Department of Commerce and officials from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) during a Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee hearing about the upcoming 2020 Census. Lankford’s questions, whose answers came from Census Director, Dr. Steven Dillingham, focused on efforts to improve Census efficiency by augmenting paper questionnaires with safe phone and internet-based questionnaires, particularly in rural areas. Lankford also asked about the status of coupling the 2030 Census and beyond with that year’s tax filings to increase efficiency and ease of the process. Additionally, Lankford asked about efforts to protect census-takers from phishing or other scams given the increased use of technology, rather than just paper questionnaires.
On how the 2020 Census will be conducted (00:07 – 01:29)
Lankford: Talk me through the breakdown of what you anticipate your email connections or reminders, web-based reminders, phone calls. What is your first estimate, besides paper, of how people will actually fill out their census forms?
Dillingham: Senator, in filling it out, really the experience we’ve had would be the Rhode Island experience where about a little over 50 percent replied by internet, and this is without the outreach campaign.
Lankford: And this is web-based, them logging in to a site?
Dillingham: I can’t say, they may have done it by smart phone.
Lankford: I’m just saying, what do you estimate? Still logging into a site? Is it an app that they’re downloading?
Dillingham: It could be that, we nationally don’t have an official estimate. The telephone usage there was much lower than you might think. It was close to seven percent by telephone.
Lankford: And that’s getting a number, punching it in, and talking to someone? Or is it all by punching it in?
Dillingham: Actually if they’re punching in, filling in the forms by smart phone, we call that internet. And if they’re going to the phone assistance center, that’s another proposition where they can get advice for filling it out on the internet, or they can give the information right there on the phone to the person, who will record it for them.
On the status of the 2030 Census in IRS tax filing (03:02 – 05:17)
Lankford: Alright, so let me ask this question. I don’t need an answer to it, I just want to be able to drop this out for you and for GAO. For years I have asked the question. April the first is census day for us officially. April the 15th there’s also another large event that happens nationwide, every single year, not every ten years. It’d be nice if it was every ten, but it’s every single April 15th that there’s also a nationwide event. We have about 140 million people that do a filing with the IRS, 127 million of those are electronically. So round numbers, around 140 million file it, 127 million electronically. That seems like a unique opportunity, for Census and for IRS to cooperate together, once every ten years to see if the Census information couldn’t be added to their IRS form and to get a very large group, 127 million households is a pretty big catch to have by April the 15th, then to go chase after that. Tell me why that wouldn’t work?
Dillingham: Senator, I’m not here to tell you why it wouldn’t work but I will tell you that we’re here to explore whether it will work and how it can work.
Lankford: Obviously that’s a 2030 question, but if we don’t start setting that up now, we’re not gonna get there. But we spent how much on the Census this year? What’s your estimate, total cost?
Dillingham: It’s close to $15 billion, Senator. I mean, for the total life cycle cost.
Lankford: Right, my hope is that we can gather a significant number of people by combining their IRS filing and their census filing we can deal with a lot of personnel issues on that every ten years. And I don’t understand why we couldn’t do that, I only bring that to you to say, ‘I know right now, the fire that’s in front of you is next year,’ but as you discuss and do after action reports, I’d love for someone to get into the conversation, could these two be combined?
Dillingham: Senator, let me just tell you this at this point. The different permutations, or ways that might be achieved have yet to be explored and analyzed. But I have been informed that there have been some conversations with private tax preparer’s services already. For example, that they could have the link at the end of the electronic form to the Census and that would be maybe a starting point for getting to the goal that you mentioned.
On addressing phishing concerns and other scams (06:34 – end)
Lankford: Now let me ask you one more question, because so much is going to be done by web based and on the phone this next time which, good, we should, that’ll help us tremendously with efficiency. It also opens up the opportunity for phishing scams. For people to put up fake sites, and say ‘this is the census site’, email out to their blast list, do robocalls out to individuals and say ‘give us all your information, we’re the Census.’ What are we doing in the Census level to help get information to people out to say, ‘this is official, and this is not, this is somebody just phishing for your information?
Dillingham: Certainly. That’ll be one of the things that will be part of our outreach campaign, it’ll be part of our social media campaign, and we’re also working with the agencies to address that, so we’re alerted whenever there’s a fake website, or a phishing activity, we get alerted and we take immediate action. And our IT and our cyber folks are working on that every day.
Lankford: Thank you.