2020 Census Modernization Efforts: Race and Ethnicity, Public Finance and Budgeting, Cyber Security and Technology

Yale Law School’s Rule of Law Clinic is representing the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and two of its affiliates in a lawsuit filed on October 5, 2017, against the United States Department of Commerce.   The federal lawsuit was filed under the Freedom of Information Act.  According to a statement issued by the NAACP, the lawsuit was filed to urge “the Commerce Department to produce records it has unlawfully withheld about preparations for the 2020 Census.” The Factual Allegations as written in the NAACP’s complaint include:

  • The Census Bureau has long admitted that the decennial census tends to undercount minorities and low-income persons. Following the 2010 census, despite intensive advertising and outreach, the census acknowledged that it failed to count 2.1 percent of African Americans and 1.5 percent of Hispanic Americans, a total of 1.5 million people. These undercounts are comparable to the undercounts in the 2000 census.
  • This census cycle will involve drastic changes: for the first time, the census will be digital, a departure from paper-based and in-person methods of previous censuses. In light of these changes, the 2020 census faces remarkable challenges.
  • Rural, low-income, and older Americans are likelier than other residents to lack reliable access to Internet service. A digital census also presents cyber security risks, which could amplify some Americans’ fears about providing sensitive information to the government.
  • The Census Bureau also faces significant uncertainty with respect to its budget, and has not provided adequate public accounting of the effects that uncertainty will have on preparations for, and the ultimate accuracy of, the 2020 Census.


In his opening remarks at the House Oversight & Reform Committee’s October hearing on 2020 Census Modernization Efforts, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross describes the census as “the bedrock upon which we construct our system of democratic representation. It provides for apportionment, redistricting, and the distribution of hundreds of billions of dollars of federal funding.”


The hearing focuses on challenges — and steps taken by executive branch officials to mitigate issues — facing the Bureau as it prepares for 2020, specifically:

  • Efficiently and effectively counting racial and ethnic minorities to assure a full and accurate count of historically undercounted groups;
  • Readiness to conduct a cost effective and accurate enumeration in light of a $3 billion budget shortfall; and
  • Implementing and securing the 43 IT systems needed to conduct the 2020 census in a manner consistent with cyber security industry best practices.