The 2020 census is shorthanded by about 80,000 field workers, who knock on the doors of households that have not responded to the survey, according to the Commerce Department inspector general.
The watchdog said the issue requires “immediate attention,” particularly because the Trump administration has directed the field work to conclude by the end of September – earlier than career Census Bureau officials said they are prepared to do.
A memorandum from the inspector general’s office posted online late Thursday and dated Tuesday notes concerns “about hiring and retaining sufficient numbers of field employees during the shortened nonresponse followup (NRFU) operation.”
It said census officials anticipated needing 300,000 field employees by the end of August but have only 220,000 trained and working.
The Census Bureau, while it does not dispute the inspector general’s findings, said in a statement to CNN that it is “pleased with the progress” of the follow-up response so far.
It said the hiring gap is offset by higher productivity and noted it is offering bonus pay to particularly productive employees.
“Our census takers are working more hours and completing more cases than we had planned,” the statement said, calling its own hiring targets “aggressive.”
The bureau also said it is adding additional training sessions and that it has “over 100,000 in training or getting ready to be trained.”
Hiring the temporary hourly workers was already challenging before the coronavirus pandemic hit. Many dropped out of training or failed to show up for work. But the inspector general said the “challenges have been exacerbated by delays caused by the coronavirus.”
“Although it anticipated, and planned for, some enumerators not to finish the onboarding process, the Bureau stated that the attrition rate – at a number of points in the hiring and training process – is higher than it had expected,” the memo says.
CNN reported on Tuesday that the Census Bureau is about a quarter of the way through the survey follow-up process.
Nationwide, about 64% of households have responded to the 2020 census.
When self-responses and follow-up visits are tallied together, the Census Bureau says, it has counted nearly 74% of US households.
This story has been updated with more Census Bureau data on the 2020 survey.