Most of the news last week was centered on the immediate threat impeached president Donald Trump is posing to the rule of law by interfering in the sentencing of one of his Russia plot henchmen, Roger Stone. While that was happening, though, there was a much more mundane demonstration of how Trump is destroying government: his administration’s looming failure to conduct the 2020 census. The Government Accountability Office issued a report made public last week in a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing showing that the U.S. Census Bureau is behind where it needs to be in recruiting census takers and in IT.
“Whether through incompetence or intentional action, this administration’s failures risk causing grave harm to this year’s census that could jeopardize a complete and accurate count,” Democratic Rep. Carolyn Maloney, the committee chair said at the hearing.
A complete and accurate account is the basis for just about every domestic program for which the government is responsible, trickling all the way down to how states and localities get federal funding and run their own programs. This follows the administration’s months-long and failed attempt to add a citizenship question to the census in order to strengthen the voting power of white people. Now that it can’t be used as a tool of white supremacy, the administration is either purposefully sabotaging it or just doesn’t give a damn so it isn’t even trying to make it work the way it’s supposed to.
The technology issue is a glaring one. The app that door-to-door census takers are supposed to use is glitchy, and officials don’t know why it’s not working. They don’t have a plan yet for backing up results from the bureau’s first ever attempt at having people do the census online and only just decided—last week—that they need to backup the system. Of course the security of the online system is failing, too. The GAO says the Bureau has 191 cybersecurity issues deemed “high risk” or “very high risk” that haven’t been resolved.
It’s all enough to have the GAO ringing an alarm bell. “Late design changes such as a shift from one system to another can introduce new risks during a critical moment,” Nick Marinos, the GAO’s director of information technology, testified last week. “The bureau needs to quickly ensure that the system is ready and that contingency plans are finalized to reflect this change and fully tested before going live.”
Quickly, as the census is supposed to begin in a matter of weeks. “Where the risk is, is just time,” said Marinos. “We are in a pressure cooker of time to get things done.”