The Government Accountability Office (GAO) said in its latest report on the 2020 Census that the Census Bureau needs to do more work identifying specific dates and key activities going forward to protect respondent privacy in its future efforts.

The report – the sixth in a series by GAO on the Census Bureau’s activities – features information on operations since GAO’s Dec. 2020 report, including the release of redistricting data, ongoing work to assess the quality of the data collected, and plans for protecting the privacy of respondent data.

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“The Bureau is required by law to protect respondent confidentiality. To that end, the Bureau implemented a new disclosure avoidance method in its 2020 Census redistricting data,” wrote GAO. “However, the Bureau’s schedule to protect respondent privacy in future data products does not provide specific dates for the disclosure avoidance activities the Bureau intends to complete.”

GAO said that the success of the program will depend on having a reliable schedule that defines when work will occur. Without a specific and complete schedule, it said the Bureau may not be able to accurately plan for and track progress on disclosure avoidance steps for future data products.

Assessing census data quality includes an independent post-enumeration survey (PES)—which is “conducted for a sample of the population to estimate how many people and housing units were missed or erroneously counted in the census,” GAO explained.

GAO said, however, the PES has experienced pandemic-related challenges. As a result, Bureau officials said that they will be transparent about the survey data’s limitations, and reported that the 2020 PES results would be released later than planned.

“GAO is recommending that the Bureau update its schedule for disclosure avoidance-related activities, to include specific time frames for all related activities,” concluded GAO. “In its comments, the Department of Commerce agreed with GAO’s findings and recommendation.”

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Jordan Smith
Jordan Smith
Jordan Smith is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.