Updated at 8:36 p.m. ET
In the last days of the Trump administration, Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham has pressured employees at the agency to speed up the production of a data report about noncitizens, including unauthorized immigrants, the bureau's internal watchdog group says.
Dillingham, a Trump appointee, directed career civil servants to make the technical report "a number one priority" and considered offering a financial incentive to employees in order to finish by Friday, days before the end of Trump's term, according to a memo released Tuesday by the inspector general's office at the Commerce Department, which oversees the bureau.
The watchdog group says multiple whistleblowers at the bureau expressed concern that the bureau has not had enough time to prepare a report and run quality checks on the data. They are worried that "incomplete data could be misinterpreted, misused, or otherwise tarnish the Bureau's reputation."
"One senior Bureau employee went as far to say that this work is statistically indefensible," according to the memo, which notes that the Friday deadline "may no longer be in effect."
The Census Bureau's public information office did not immediately respond to NPR's request for comment.
The revelation comes a day after the Trump administration disclosed to a federal judge that the bureau is still "diligently" trying to fix irregularities in the 2020 census records that, along with the coronavirus pandemic, have postponed the once-a-decade process for using census results to reapportion congressional seats and Electoral College votes among the states.
New state population counts are not expected out until March 6, and that delay has significantly reduced the chances of Trump carrying out a presidential memo that directs unauthorized immigrants to be excluded from those numbers. The Constitution says those counts must include the "whole number of persons in each state."
Given the timing constraints, it's not clear exactly what Dillingham or the rest of the Trump administration plans to do with data about noncitizens.
The inspector general's office has asked Dillingham to explain in writing by Thursday why he prioritized the production of a report about noncitizens at this time and how the information will be used.
According to the watchdog group's memo, two controversial Trump-appointed deputy directors at the bureau — Nathaniel Cogley and Benjamin Overholt — are the "driving forces behind this work" and are expected to leave the bureau "in the coming days."
The bureau has been compiling government records about U.S. citizenship from other federal agencies and some states after the courts blocked the Trump administration from adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census. Shortly after a 2019 ruling by the Supreme Court, Trump issued an executive order that directed the bureau to try to use those records to produce a count of both citizens and noncitizens in the U.S. That data, the order says, could be used to "evaluate the potential effects of proposals to alter the eligibility rules for public benefits," as well as proposals to "enhance enforcement of immigration laws."
Federal law prohibits personal information collected by the Census Bureau from being used against anyone by any government agency or court.