We add that evaluations of the use of administrative records are often viewed as involving extensive, resource-intensive fieldwork. However, while fieldwork needs to be involved to some extent, much evaluation of administrative records can be accomplished if the Census Bureau structures its various databases collected from test censuses in a way that facilitates matching.
Furthermore, if data from E-StARS are used successfully in 2010, the Census Bureau should consider more ambitious uses of administrative data in the 2020 census. Specifically, the Census Bureau might use administrative data to replace the nonresponse follow-up interview for many housing units, not just late-stage nonresponse. Under this proposal, the Census Bureau would use data from administrative records to determine the occupancy status of some nonresponding housing units and the number and characteristics of its residents. To do so, the Census Bureau would have to develop criteria of adequacy of the information in the administrative records to establish the existence and membership of the household for this purpose. For example, agreement of several records of acceptable currency and quality might be considered sufficient to use the information as a substitute for a census enumeration, which would reduce the burden of field follow-up.
This would represent a substantial change in what constitutes a census enumeration, of at least the same conceptual magnitude as the change from in-person to mail enumerations as the primary census methodology. However, given that the completeness of administrative systems and the capabilities of matching and processing administrative records has been growing, while cooperation with field operations has declined, these contrasting trends make it increasingly likely that administrative records can soon provide enumerations of quality at least as good as field follow-up for some housing units. Furthermore, unlike purely statistical adjustment methods, every census enumeration would correspond to a specific person for whom there is direct evidence of his or her residence and their characteristics. The long-run potential for such broader contributions from administrative records is a reason to give high priority to their application in the 2010 census, in addition to their direct benefits in that census.
Two possible objections might be raised in opposition to this approach. First, this use of administrative records may be ruled to be inconsistent with interpretations of what a census entails in the Constitution. Second, public acknowledgment that this method is being used might have a negative impact on the level of cooperation with census-taking. These two issues would need to be resolved before the Census Bureau could go forward. Also, this is clearly dependent on the success of the more modest efforts suggested for possible use in 2010.