VIDEO RELEASE: Former OIRA Administrator to Carper: It’s Hard to See How Census Citizenship Question Would Pass Muster Under Law

 Exchange at HSGAC hearing makes clear that OMB should be doing more to ensure adherence to Paperwork Reduction Act

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, in the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Subcommittee on Regulatory Affairs and Federal Management, Senator Tom Carper (D-Del.) asked former Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) Administrator Sally Katzen to explain OIRA’s role in reviewing information collections and what OIRA should be reviewing with respect to the addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 Decennial Census. OIRA is the office within the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) charged with reviewing of Executive Branch regulations, approving government information collections, establishing government statistical practices, and coordinating federal privacy policy, which includes review of additions to the census.

Senator Carper asked, “As you know, under the Paperwork Reduction Act, the Office of Management and Budget must review and approve federal collections of information before they are conducted. After reviewing the agency request, OMB may approve or disapprove the request or define conditions that must be met for approval. OMB is required to ensure that any information collection maximizes the practical utility and public benefit and protects the integrity, objectivity and impartiality of collected statistical information…Ms. Katzen, as you know, concerns have been raised about adding a question on citizenship due to the potential negative consequences, including a lower self-response rate, which would lead to a less accurate and more costly census. Can you please weigh in and explain OIRA’s role in reviewing collections, and what OIRA should be reviewing with respect to the citizenship question and the 2020 Census?”

In response, Ms. Katzen explained, “I think the most significant aspect is that the primary purpose of the decennial census, which is embodied in the Constitution – it’s the only paperwork requirement embodied in the Constitution –  is for the enumeration every 10 years. That is primary purpose. The addition of a question relating to citizenship is a question, which at least pretextually, has been justified by assisting the Justice Department in better enforcing voter rights cases. That’s a secondary condition. If the secondary condition is going to have an adverse effect on the primary purpose, one would have a very hard time justifying it under the Paperwork Reduction Act because every past Census Bureau Director and vast numbers of statisticians, including the National Academy of Science, has said that this will decrease the response rate significantly…”

Ms. Katzen continued, “With that, it is hard to see how the question would pass muster under the Paperwork Reduction Act.”

Senator Carper’s question follows an unanswered letter he wrote to the current OIRA Administrator Neomi Rao and Secretary of the U.S. Department of Commerce Wilbur Ross asking the agencies to explain how the Trump Administration plans to comply with the Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA) following its hasty decision to include a question on citizenship to the upcoming 2020 Decennial Census.

Federal agencies seeking to collect information from the public must comply with the Paperwork Reduction Act. The law requires agencies to evaluate the need to collect information and the potential burden that collecting particular information will place on the public. The PRA also provides two opportunities for members of the public to review and comment on proposed information collections. However, the Trump Administration has yet to initiate the first public comment period and has not committed to make comments it receives available to the public.

Senator Carper has repeatedly raised concerns about adding a question on citizenship due to the potential negative consequences, including a lower response rate, which would lead to a less accurate and more costly Census.

Watch the full exchange here.