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Post-census Local Review Improved Local Accuracy

Building public confidence in the census is essential to the success of the census. Nothing undermines that confidence more than the Department of Commerce’s decision to eliminate Post-Census Local Review – an opportunity for state and local governments to perform a quality check of the census numbers before they are final. The Department of Commerce’s refusal to reinstate Post-Census Local Review demonstrates a lack of sensitivity to concerns of state and local governments.

In light of the doubts cast on the local accuracy of the Bureau’s adjustment plan, responsible representatives should look for better ways to ensure people are counted in the neighborhood where they live. Post-Census Local Review, a program included in the 1990 census, is one way to provide local governments with a final quality-check of census numbers.

During the 1990 census, the Bureau offered local and tribal governments both pre-census and post-census reviews of housing counts in their area. During post-census review, the Bureau reported the number of housing units counted in each block prior to releasing the final numbers. Counties, cities and other localities had 15 business days to check these counts for accuracy.

Former Director of the Census Bureau Barbara Bryant wrote that, "Overall, 17 percent of local governments, including the 51 largest cities in the country, challenged our counts. Seven cities claimed an undercount of housing units on more than 2,000 blocks." According to Director Bryant, Post-Census Local Review ultimately added nearly 500,000 people to the census.39 As the result of post-census coverage improvements, Detroit, Michigan added over 47,000 people, mostly inner-city residents, to its total. Cleveland, Ohio added more than 10,000 people.40

At the time of this report, Post-Census Local Review is not part of any plan proposed by the Bureau for Census 2000.

Current Bureau officials contest Director Bryant’s assessment of Post-Census Local Review, citing fewer true "adds" to the census count. In fact, many of the corrections made by the 1990 review included relocating people to the accurate place – subtracting them from the wrong block and adding them to the correct block. For the purpose of determining local funding, such an addition could be more valuable, because it would keep resources from being mistakenly allocated to a nearby jurisdiction.

In 1990, the Bureau listed compelling reasons to offer local review. "Most important is that local officials have an opportunity to review the maps and counts while the census is still in progress. Possible errors identified and reported at this stage are relatively easy to check and correct if necessary. Once this stage is passed, problems can become difficult to resolve….The officials of local and tribal governments that choose to participate also will have a better understanding of the procedures and concepts involved in taking a census. A considerable amount of good will and understanding of one another can develop between the governmental unit, the state agencies assisting the governmental units, and Census Bureau personnel as a result of the interaction during the local review program."41

These benefits – a more accurate census and local buy-in to the process – are no less compelling for 2000. Mayor David Kehoe of Redding, California, writes in a letter to the Board, "precensus and postcensus review of unit counts is just as crucial in the year 2000 count as it was in the last decennial." With the introduction of new and disputed methodology into Census 2000, efforts which promote local participation and confidence would seem to be more, not less, important to the census.

There is reason to believe that Post-Census Local Review would be more successful in 2000 than in 1990. In 1994, urged by local governments dissatisfied with limited input in the 1990 census, Congress passed the Census Address List Improvement Act. As a result, the Bureau can now share individual addresses with local governments (for the purpose of review only). One result is the LUCA (Local Update of Census Addresses) program, wherein local and tribal governments review and submit updates to the mailing list prior the census.

Building on the benefits of LUCA, the possibility of reviewing specific addresses promises significant improvement to Post-Census Local Review. In 1990, the Bureau provided local governments with the number of housing units in an area, but not their addresses. In order to correct those numbers, local leaders generally needed to finance a special census of their area.42 This burden could be reduced by the Bureau providing detailed address lists. For instance, a mayor or city planner relatively familiar with the area would not need a local census to point out to the Bureau that the 800-block of North Main Street was missing from the census list.

Correcting the census counts during Post-Census Local Review would also continue the working relationship formed between local officials and Bureau employees during LUCA. The Bureau estimates that over 18,000 local governments have designated a liaison to work with the Bureau updating the Master Address File.43 Post-Census Local Review is a logical follow-up to those efforts, confirming that the addresses submitted during LUCA were counted during the census.

Since 1990, many local governments have developed address databases and mapping systems comparable or superior to those of the Bureau. State and local governments have rapidly expanded their use of mapping and database technology, generically referred to as Geographic Information Systems (GIS). GIS can provide extremely detailed housing information, down to a house-by-house record of addresses and their corresponding positions on a map. Two of the country’s most advanced GIS operations, agencies of the City of Sacramento and the State of South Carolina, took part in the census dress rehearsals in April 1998. Representatives of Delaware County, Ohio demonstrated comparable technology at the November 6, 1998 Board meeting.44 These operations are characterized by small staffs, efficient budgets, and a high level of technical proficiency.45 Their proliferation has produced a unique situation in the history of American census-taking: for the first time, a growing number of local authorities actually have better mapping technology and address information, at the local level, than the U.S. Census Bureau.

Follow-up is especially important in light of testimony from dress rehearsal sites in South Carolina and Sacramento, and reports that local updates are not consistently added to the Master Address File. This situation was exemplified during Sacramento’s dress rehearsal, where the Department of Commerce’s Inspector General reported "the Bureau was unable to insert all corrections to maps resulting from the ‘Local Update of Census Addresses’ in time for the start of the operation. Bureau geography specialists explained that processing of updates to the map files was delayed because while as many as four bureau teams were trying to update Sacramento’s master map file concurrently, only one person at a time is permitted access to the map file. As a result, geography specialists attempting to make local updates to census address changes were unable to access the map file; therefore, maps did not reflect these changes."46

These problems, echoed in correspondence to the Board from local governments across the country (see below, and Chapter 9, "Board Receives Feedback From Local Governments"), contradict Bureau assertions that the LUCA program is a replacement for Post-Census Local Review. Unquestionably, LUCA is a valuable expansion of the pre-census review. However, in the interests of local accuracy and input to the census, local officials and national representatives should assure the right of local review after April 1, 2000.