The Government Accountability Office already put the 2020 census on its list of high-risk projects early this year, due to uncertainty about its budget and technology, and Americans’ increasing distrust of government data collection.
Then, the Census Bureau’s director, John Thompson, who was expected to remain on the job until at least the end of the year, resigned in June. Mr. Trump has not named a permanent replacement. The agency’s deputy director, Nancy Potok, an experienced statistician, left in January, and she also has not been replaced.
Responses to mail-in questionnaires — still the chief data collection method for the census — and door-to-door interviews have been declining for years, a G.A.O. report said.
The bureau — criticized in the past by government watchdogs and Congress for cost overruns and management missteps — is strapped for cash in a critical preparation year. The bureau could need an increase of more than $300 million to its $1.5 billion budget to install new technology and conduct a comprehensive test in time for 2020, according to an analysis of bureau budget requests and projections by Terri Ann Lowenthal, a census expert. So far, the Trump administration and Congress are recommending an increase of about one-tenth that amount, according to the Census Project, a nonpartisan census advocacy group.