The Census Bureau has paused all hiring and on-boarding for nearly 600,000 employees due to the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, top Census officials told reporters March 20.

The suspension will run through “at least” April 1, said Census Associate Director for Field Operations Tim Olson. The on-boarding process includes getting fingerprints, background checks and completing forms, before training begins.

“We are communicating with both applicants and those who recently accepted a job offer of this pause,” Olson said on a call with reporters.

Olson said the Census has received over 2.8 million applicants and that hiring in its 248 field offices is “nearly” finished. The bureau will keep its application site open “for the foreseeable future” as it anticipates people will drop out and still encourages people to apply, he said, adding that the bureau may need more temporary employees than it initially anticipated.

The Census officials also announced that outreach programs would be delayed for weeks, though damage done by the delays is somewhat mitigated because several efforts weren’t set to begin for at least that long.

The largest Census operation, which involves about 500,000 temporary workers going to households that have not responded to the survey, was set to begin in much of the country on May 13. That will now start May 28. Outreach in areas with high student populations was slated to begin April 9 but will now start no earlier than May 13.

Universities across the country have sent their students home due to the outbreak, which will leave many students without the Census identification number that would arrive in their mailbox. Students can still respond online and note that they don’t have a census ID.

This is the first Census that allows respondents to fill out the questionnaire online.

The Census also has outreach operations planned for inmates and people experiencing homelessness. These operations were planned for late March and early April, Olson said, but are now delayed from the mid- to late April “pending conditions throughout the nation.”

Completion for outreach to all these communities has been delayed from July 31 to Aug. 14.

The Census is also in communication with the state governments of California and New York about how to proceed after the states’ governors announced stay at home orders.

“As we continue to monitor this evolving situation — the COVID-19 outbreak — we will adjust Census taker and survey operations as necessary in order to follow the guidance of federal, state and local authorities,” Olson said.

The Census officials continuously stated that they believe the 2020 Census can finish the decennial count within the legally-mandated time frame.

“Of all of our worst nightmares of things that could’ve gone wrong with the Census, we did not anticipate this set of actions,” said Al Fontenot, associate director for decennial programs at the Census Bureau.

The 900 employees that work in a Phoenix collection center as still working, but practicing social-distancing “to the extent possible,” said Olson. A facility in Jeffersonville, Ind. is transitioning to the minimum number of essential staff to continue operations, Olson said.

So far, the Census has received responses from 18.6 million households, officials said.

Andrew Eversden covers all things defense technology for C4ISRNET. He previously reported on federal IT and cybersecurity for Federal Times and Fifth Domain, and worked as a congressional reporting fellow for the Texas Tribune. He was also a Washington intern for the Durango Herald. Andrew is a graduate of American University.

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