Nov 22 -- The Bureau of the Census (Census Bureau) is proposing to amend the regulations for the Population Estimates Challenge Program which provides eligible general-purpose governmental entities (units) with the opportunity to file requests for the review of their population estimates for 2021 and subsequent years in forthcoming estimates series, beginning with the Vintage 2022 series that is scheduled to be published in 2023. Under this program, a governmental unit may file a challenge to its official population estimate by submitting additional data to the Census Bureau for evaluation, or by identifying a technical error in processing input data or producing the estimates. Specifically, the Census Bureau is proposing to amend its regulations to: update references to the input data used to produce the official population estimates and revise the evidence required to support a challenge. Written comments must be submitted on or before December 22, 2022.
The Census Bureau typically releases annual population estimates, in accordance with Title 13 of the United States Code (U.S.C.). These estimates are typically based to some extent upon the most recent Decennial Census of Population and Housing and compiled from the most current administrative and survey data available for that purpose. Although not required by any statute, the Census Bureau also typically offers an opportunity for local units of general-purpose government (hereinafter collectively “governmental unit”) to challenge these official estimates through its Population Estimates Challenge Program. Under this program, a governmental unit may challenge its population estimate by submitting additional data to the Census Bureau for evaluation, or by identifying a technical error in processing input data or producing the estimates. If the additional data are accepted during the review period by the Census Bureau, resulting in an updated population estimate, the Census Bureau will provide a written notification to the governmental unit and publish the revised estimate at www.census.gov. If the additional data are not accepted for a revised estimate, the Census Bureau will notify the governmental unit. In the challenge process, the Census Bureau will only accept a challenge when the evidence provided indicates the use of incorrect data, processes, or calculations in the estimates.
In this proposed rule, the Census Bureau is proposing to amend its regulations to: (1) update references to the input data used to produce the official population estimates, and (2) revise the evidence required to support a challenge.
The Census Bureau is also soliciting comments from the public about any ways in which the program might be improved. In particular, the Census Bureau welcomes comments about (1) the methodology used in preparing the annual Population Estimates, (2) the sources of data that the agency considers (or does not consider) in preparing the annual Population Estimates, and (3) what sorts of factual or methodological arguments the agency considers (or does not consider) in evaluating a potential challenge.
Currently, the Census Bureau begins the process of preparing population estimates by updating population information from the most recent decennial census and other sources with information found in the annual administrative records of Federal and State Agencies. The Federal Agencies provide tax records, Medicare records, and some vital records and group quarters information. The State Agencies from the Federal-State Cooperative for Population Estimates (FSCPE), designated by their respective governors to work in cooperation with the Census Bureau's Population Estimates Program to produce population estimates, also supply vital statistics and information about group quarters like college dorms or prisons. The Census Bureau combines census base data, administrative records, and selected survey data to produce current population estimates that usually begin with the last decennial census. Additionally, the Census Bureau's general-purpose governmental units' population estimates are provided to the FSCPE agencies in preliminary form for review and comment to resolve data processing issues identified during that period. For the purposes of this program, the District of Columbia is treated as a statistical equivalent of a county and, therefore, eligible to participate.
A major priority for the Census Bureau is balancing the need to use the 2020 Census counts at the lowest level of estimates geography as the starting point in estimates production with the statutory obligation to protect the respondents' confidentiality at every stage of the data lifecycle. Since the 1990 Census, the Bureau has added “noise”—or variations from the actual count—to the collected data to ensure privacy and confidentiality. For 2020 Census data, the Census Bureau applied noise using a newer disclosure avoidance framework based on “differential privacy”.
The Census Bureau uses a housing unit method to distribute a county population to places within its legal boundaries. The components in this method include housing units estimates, average household population per housing unit, and an estimate of the population in group quarters. The estimation formula was simplified to increase the accuracy of the estimates following the application of differential privacy as per the Census Bureau's new disclosure avoidance framework: to minimize the impact of differential privacy on the population estimates, the Census Bureau reduced the number of components requiring privacy protection used to generate population estimates. Consequently, the occupancy rate and Persons Per Household (PPH) previously used in this method were replaced with the average household population per housing unit. The household population and the group quarters population used in the calculation of the estimate are the only two components subject to differential privacy protection compared to three components—occupancy rate, PPH, and group quarters population—that would have otherwise required privacy protection. Therefore, the PPH and occupancy rate components are no longer inputs used to produce those population estimates. The distributive housing unit equation used to calculate the population estimates for governmental units is simplified to accommodate the application of the disclosure avoidance technique prior to releasing the estimates. As a result, the Census Bureau is proposing to amend 15 CFR part 90 to revise: (1) references to the input data used to produce the official population estimates, (2) where to file a challenge and (3) the evidence required to support a challenge. These changes are captured in the proposed updates to §§ 90.2, 90.7, and 90.8.
The Census Bureau proposes no technical changes to its regulations except in the following sections:
Sections 90.2 and 90.7—to ensure that the regulatory text more accurately describes how the Population Estimates Challenge Program has always functioned and is expected to function in the future. This proposed clarification does not reflect any operational changes.
Section 90.8—to update the challengeable components of change.
FRN announcing resumption of PE Challenge Program: https://www.federalregister.gov/d/2022-25413