The congressional committee that oversees the Census Bureau issued a subpoena Thursday to U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, seeking documents related to data irregularities that threaten to upend a yearend deadline for submitting numbers used for divvying up congressional seats.
Democrat U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, has alleged that the administration of Republican President Donald Trump is blocking the release of full, unredacted documents she requested about the data anomalies. Those irregularities arose during the number-crunching phase of the once-a-decade Census count.
The anomalies will likely force a delay of several weeks past a Dec. 31 deadline for the Census Bureau to turn in the congressional apportionment numbers.
In a letter last week, Maloney wrote that the Commerce Department — which oversees the Census Bureau — missed a Nov. 24 deadline to give the documents to the committee. She threatened a subpoena if the documents weren’t handed over by Wednesday.
“Your approach to Congress’ oversight responsibilities has been abominable,” Maloney wrote Ross in another letter Thursday. “You have repeatedly withheld documents that should have been produced as a matter of course to your Department’s oversight committee.”
The Commerce Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Ross has until Dec. 21 to comply with the subpoena, Maloney said.
The Census Bureau said last week that the data irregularities affect only a tiny percentage of the records and are being resolved as quickly as possible. The timeline remains in flux for turning in the apportionment numbers used for deciding how many congressional seats and Electoral College votes each state gets in future elections, the bureau said in a Dec. 2 statement.
The data anomalies represent less than seven-tenths of 1% of records, according to the bureau. But experts testifying at a House hearing on Dec. 3 said that even errors of just tens of thousands of people out of the nation’s 330 million residents can affect which states get an extra congressional seat or lose one.
The House committee has obtained three new internal agency documents showing the Census Bureau plans to deliver the apportionment numbers to the president no earlier than Jan. 23, which would be shortly after Trump leaves office and President-elect Joe Biden takes over.
Missing the Dec. 31 deadline for turning in the apportionment numbers would be a blow to Trump’s unprecedented efforts to exclude people in the country illegally from being counted in the numbers, which are also used to determine how $1.5 trillion in federal spending is distributed.