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Preparing for the 2020 Census: Choosing Data Collection and Processing Systems

CENSUS Directors Blog - Fri, 05/27/2016 - 02:44

Written by John H. Thompson

Today, the U.S. Census Bureau announced a major decision on the path to the 2020 Census. Since December 2014, we’ve been assessing whether to use commercial software products to collect and process data in the 2020 Census, or whether to build our own systems. After a great deal of evaluation and discussion, we have determined that a hybrid approach – combining a commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) system with specific solutions developed by Census experts – will best meet our needs.

During this same period, our in-house innovation and development teams have been hard at work developing prototypes that we could test during the 2020 Census field tests. These prototypes delivered key digital data collection system capabilities for data collection.   This testing as been a critical part of the development process, allowing us to better understand how we could reengineer our business processes to save money during the 2020 Census.  The work of the teams helped us develop and refine our requirements, and to make a well-informed evaluation of the COTS products.

Based on our final requirements and an analysis of the development and testing results – and with input from experts at Carnegie Mellon University, and the National Academy of Sciences – we decided on an integrated COTS platform that can supply functional solutions as well as allow us to incorporate some of the innovations that we have developed in-house. This approach meets our data collection and processing goals for the 2020 Census, and builds the infrastructure to support all of our censuses and surveys in the future.

Refining the systems we use for data collection and processing is a critical component of our proposal to save $5.2 billion in the 2020 Census, compared to repeating the 2010 Census design. The timing of this decision was critical to meet the schedules and timelines that are key to preparing for the 2018 End-to-End Test, which will test the integration of all major operations and systems.

To learn more about how we made this decision for the agency, click here. For more information about how we’re preparing for the next census, check out the 2020 Decision Memo and our 2020 Census Operational Plan.

Technology Innovations for Nonresponse Follow-Up in the 2020 Census

CENSUS Directors Blog - Tue, 05/24/2016 - 00:22

Written by: John H. Thompson

This week I am visiting Los Angeles County to observe the last phase of the 2016 Census Test, currently underway here in California as well as in Harris County, Texas. Almost 225,000 households in Los Angeles County received a notification from the U.S. Census Bureau by mail 9 weeks ago asking them to complete the 2016 Census Test questionnaire online. Now, census takers are engaged in what we call “nonresponse follow-up” — that is, personally visiting households that did not respond to the census.

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       Director Thompson looks at the 2016 Census Test questionnaire online in Chinese.

Using technology to refine our nonresponse follow-op operations is a critical part of our preparations for the 2020 Census. The testing that’s underway in California and Texas will help us hone the innovative, cost-saving procedures outlined in the 2020 Census Operational Plan.

In the current phase of the 2016 Census Test, we’re refining the technologies and methods that we use to assign cases to field staff conducting nonresponse follow-up visits. In 2020, we plan to automate much of the door-to-door field work involved in this operation and better manage census takers’ workloads and routing in real time.

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A census taker visits a household for nonresponse follow-up in Los Angeles County, Calif.

We’re also continuing to refine our innovative use of mobile technology in our follow-up efforts. We’re replacing paper and pencil with mobile devices for census takers who visit nonresponding households. These devices have special software that census takers will use to securely collect households’ information and transmit that data, daily assignments, updates and timesheets.

Finally, we’re continuing our research into how to best use existing government and commercial information to reduce the nonresponse follow-up workload. For example, we’re exploring how to use records to identify vacant units that we don’t need to visit. We’re also working on ways we can use this information to reduce the number of  visits census takers make to nonresponding households, and to count those households if they don’t respond after multiple visits.

Through the smart use of technology and innovations like these, we can save up to $5.2 billion, compared to repeating the design of the 2010 Census. Thank you to the residents of Los Angeles County and Harris County for participating in this critical census test. Your cooperation is critical to helping us design a complete and accurate census in 2020, one that will give America the data it needs to make good policies and decisions for its growing population.

You can track the results of the 2016 Census Test and our plans for the 2020 Census at

Surveying U.S. Census Bureau Commuting Data in Atlanta

CENSUS Directors Blog - Wed, 04/27/2016 - 20:43

Written by: John H. Thompson

Today, I am in Atlanta for a roundtable discussion with local officials on commuting data, and how they can use the Census Bureau’s wealth of statistics to serve their communities.

The Atlanta area is a great case study of some of the many ways that commuting data can be used by policy makers and residents. For starters, our data show that the mean travel time of Atlanta-area commuters is among the highest of American metro areas, at 31 minutes. Our data also indicate how residents get to work – whether by car, bike, public transportation or on foot. Atlantans rely heavily on their cars, with 76.3 percent of workers commuting by automobile.

Commuting data can also tell Atlanta leaders about how residents use other modes of transportation, such as the MARTA bus and rail line, the Downtown Loop streetcar line that opened in 2014, and the multi-use BeltLine trail that’s currently under development. Our statistics can show changes in how people use these alternative travel methods over time.

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Armed with Census Bureau data on commuting, local officials can see how, when, and where their residents are commuting. This enables them to make evidence-based decisions on transportation on behalf of their constituents. For example, they can examine the relationship between transportation systems and development patterns in their area; implement policies to address traffic congestion; and use forecasting to predict commuting behavior.

But officials aren’t the only people who can use our data. Residents and advocacy groups can use them to petition for new or expanded roads, bus lines, bike lanes, and sidewalks. Entrepreneurs and economic development agencies can better understand the link between travel and business patterns. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (coincidentally, based in Atlanta) uses commuting data to track community design and its effect on environmental public health. The potential uses are endless.

Census Bureau commuting statistics come from the American Community Survey, the largest household survey in the U.S. Along with data on commuting patterns, the American Community Survey provides statistics on housing, employment, education and many other topics – and it’s the basis for the distribution of more than $400 billion in federal funds. Transportation strategy is just one way that communities use American Community Survey statistics to plan for investments and services.

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Director Thompson and Doug Hooker, Atlanta Regional Commission executive director, discuss how Census Bureau data can be used to inform decisions on the city’s commuting and transportation needs.

If you’re interested in learning more about commuting patterns in your community, check out Census Explorer: Commuting Edition to see data by state, county and neighborhood. For special reports on commuting, visit the Census Bureau’s commuting web page.

Census Day in the Houston and Los Angeles Areas

CENSUS Directors Blog - Fri, 04/01/2016 - 19:46

Written by: John H. Thompson

Today is Census Day for Harris County, Texas and Los Angeles County, Calif., the two sites taking part in the 2016 Census Test. Almost 225,000 households in each location have received a notification by mail asking them to complete the questionnaire. During the decennial census, Census Day – April 1 – provides the reference day for measuring the population; we’re using the same reference day for the 2016 Census Test.

The 2016 Census Test is part of the extensive research and testing that will help us make key decisions about how we will carry out the next census. From 2012 through 2015, we conducted seven census tests across the country that informed our 2020 Census Operational Plan. The test underway in Texas and California is a large-scale implementation of innovations from the 2020 Census Operational Plan.

The 2020 Census will be easy to respond to, because it will be our most automated and technologically advanced census ever. In 2020, Americans will be able to respond from anywhere – by mail, phone, or online using a laptop, tablet or smartphone. We’re replacing paper and pencil with mobile devices for enumerators who visit nonresponding households. We’ll also count people using information they have already given to the government, if they don’t respond after we’ve provided them with multiple opportunities to participate. The 2016 Census Test is a vital step in operationalizing all of these innovations. Based on its results, we’ll refine many of the innovative and cost-saving procedures and methods in the plan for use in 2020.

We’re now more than halfway to 2020, and we’re planning, researching, testing, and getting feedback to ensure that responding to the census is easy and secure. By using the innovations that are laid out in the 2020 Census Operational Plan and that are being tested in 2016, we’ll be able to avoid an estimated $5 billion in costs (compared to the projected cost of using the same methods as the 2010 Census).

If you live in Harris County or Los Angeles County, I encourage you to learn more about the 2016 Census Test by visiting The 2020 Census will be unlike any other in our history. Your participation is critical to testing the innovations that will make the 2020 Census easier than ever to respond to, save taxpayers money, and ensure a complete and accurate census. Happy Census Day!


Planning and Testing for the 2020 Census in Harris County, Texas

CENSUS Directors Blog - Sat, 03/26/2016 - 00:54

Written by: John H. Thompson

Today I am visiting Harris County, Texas, one of two sites now taking part in the 2016 Census Test that will help us prepare for the decennial census in 2020. The census is the most important barometer of population change in America – an issue that’s increasingly important here in the Houston area. Yesterday, the U.S. Census Bureau’s Population Estimates Program announced that the Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land gained 159,000 new residents last year, the largest gain of any metro area in the nation.

This is a time of transition and growth for the Houston area. Census data is the way that America measures population growth and change. Local areas rely on our statistics for planning where to build new schools and roads.  Businesses use our data to track economic and demographic trends – for example, the Greater Houston Partnership uses Census Bureau statistics to provide information to companies and attract new jobs to the area. And each year, the federal government distributes more than $400 billion to states and communities based on Census Bureau data. The 2020 Census will provide critical information that empowers the more than 4.5 million people and over 95,000 businesses with paid employees in communities across Harris County and across the country.


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Director Thompson talks with Khalilat Adesokan, Tonya Netters and Fred Darden of Goodwill Industries of Houston, a 2016 Census Test partner and a trusted voice in the community.

The 2016 Census Test is part of the extensive research and testing that will help us make key decisions about how the next census will be carried out. The 2020 Census will be the most automated and technologically advanced census ever. Americans will be able to answer the questionnaire from anywhere – by mail, phone, or online using a laptop, tablet or smartphone.

The test currently underway in Texas and California is a large-scale implementation of innovations that will make the 2020 Census easier than ever to respond to, while saving taxpayers more than $5 billion compared to doing the census the old way. We’re now more than halfway to the 2020 Census, and we’re doing everything we can – planning, researching, testing, and getting feedback – to ensure that responding to it is easy and secure. Based on the results of the 2016 Census Test, we’ll refine many of the innovative and cost-saving procedures and methods in our plan.

Thank you to the residents of Harris County for your participation in this critical census test. I’m also grateful for the support of local officials and our partners – especially from schools, which have been crucial in raising awareness about the test and its importance to students and their families.

The 2016 Census Test is critical to ensuring a complete and accurate census in 2020, one that will give America the data it needs to make good policies and decisions for its growing population. You can track the results of the 2016 Census Test and other developments in our planning for the 2020 Census – and give us your input – at

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Opportunity Data Set Powered by U.S. Census Bureau Information

CENSUS Directors Blog - Tue, 03/08/2016 - 00:48

Written by: John H. Thompson

This afternoon, I attended the launch of the Opportunity Project at the White House. The Opportunity Project is an initiative from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that uses Census Bureau data to help cities and local governments use new, curated, open data to account for how they use federal housing dollars.

The Opportunity Project’s curated data set is a new way that the federal government is collaborating with local leaders, technologists, non-profits and community members to leverage data to expand access to opportunity and fair housing across the country. Through this data set – which is derived from American Community Survey data and other Census Bureau sources – users can navigate a wealth of information on access to jobs, transit and schools. Armed with this information on neighborhood-level opportunities and challenges, communities can expand access to opportunity for their members.


Director Thompson speaks about The Opportunity Project.

As part of the project, in January the government brought together eight cities and a dozen private sector and non-profit software development teams to use Opportunity Data to create user-friendly digital tools that help communities navigate and visualize information about their neighborhoods. Some of the participants included developers from Zillow, Redfin and Socrata; experts from the Urban Institute and Ford Foundation; and local data leads from New Orleans, Baltimore and Philadelphia.

Today, the developers launched their tools, which visualize everything from school test scores to community health outcomes to median commute times. In addition, the White House launched the Opportunity interactive site with the curated data set packaged in an accessible format. This information is now at the fingertips of local leaders, community organizers, non-profits, media, and families to use in creative and innovative ways.


U.S. Chief Technology Officer, Megan Smith, introduces Census Bureau Director John Thompson at the White House rollout of the Opportunity Project.

The Opportunity Project is just one example of how the Census Bureau is working to make its data widely and easily accessible. HUD and the Census Bureau have been closely partnering on data outreach for the past year, including on CitySDK, which makes it easier to build products with open data (including the Opportunity data set) from the federal government. The Opportunity Project deepens our engagement with software developers, in conjunction with the newly created Commerce Data Service as well as the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy, Domestic Policy Council and Office of Management and Budget. We look forward to continuing to leverage our technology and data in the future to help facilitate agencies and the public in further expanding access to opportunity and fair housing.

Innovation and Modernization in FY 2017

CENSUS Directors Blog - Fri, 02/26/2016 - 00:00

Written by: John H. Thompson

The mission of the U.S. Census Bureau is to serve as the leading source of quality data about the Nation’s people and economy.  To accomplish this mission, we’re continually innovating ways to modernize our data collection methods and disseminating activities for the 21st century.

FY 2017 is a critical year for innovation at the Census Bureau. One of our major priorities is our commitment to cost containment while maintaining data quality. Our plans for the 2020 Census reflect this goal – it will be the most automated, modern, and dynamic decennial census in history, with sweeping design changes in four key areas. We designed the 2020 Census to cost less per housing unit than the 2010 Census (adjusted for inflation), while maintaining the highest standards of accuracy in counting all individuals once, only once, and in the right place.

We’re also working to contain costs by revamping technology that underpins our work. We’re rethinking the way we collect and process data – including expanding our internet and mobile data collection. These advances will consolidate costs, streamline our work, and reduce the burden on individuals and businesses who respond to all our censuses and surveys.

Another major area of innovation is in unlocking the potential of our data. Businesses, policy makers, and the American public rely on our economic statistics to make data-driven decisions, and in FY 2017, we aim to meet their demands for more accurate, timely and granular data. We’ll deliver a full suite of enhanced macroeconomic indicators to drive decisions on investments, economic growth and job creation. By accelerating and enhancing a substantial number of key economic indicators, we can cumulatively lead to a more precise measure of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). In addition, we’re harnessing the potential of “Big Data” to create new data products and expand our existing products to transform how Americans can find, connect, and use these improved economic data.

Finally, we’re thinking outside the box to tackle some long-standing challenges. For example, we’re using aerial imagery to detect areas where addresses have changed in the U.S. – part of the geographic foundation for nearly every economic and social data product that the Census Bureau produces. We’re also researching new ways to balance the nation’s need for detailed social, economic and housing information with the need to minimize the burden of people who respond to our surveys. Innovation in survey design and data collection can help us reduce that burden while still providing communities and businesses with the data they need to make informed choices.

To learn more about how the Census Bureau plans to innovate and modernize to meet that challenge and fulfill our mission, check out the infographic below.


New Features for My Congressional District Expand Access to U.S. Census Bureau Data

CENSUS Directors Blog - Thu, 02/18/2016 - 23:15

Written by: John H. Thompson

As the nation’s premiere source of data about America’s economy, businesses and people,  we’re committed to making our data more accessible than ever before through new tools and data sets.  We are always listening to you for ways to improve access to our statistics.

In response to customer feedback, I am pleased to announce that latest phase of our digital transformation. For the first time, our County Business Patterns statistics are available by congressional district and to highlight them, we are making them available through a new update of our popular interactive Web app, My Congressional District. Now – in addition to demographic, socioeconomic and housing data – you can access business data at the congressional district level all in one place.

Whether you’re a constituent, working in a congressional office, or just interested in the data, My Congressional District allows you to easily access both economic and demographic data by Congressional district in an easy-to-use app.

In addition to the American Community Survey statistics on demography, socioeconomics, housing and other topics already available through My Congressional District, County Business Patterns provides annual statistics on establishments, employment and payroll for businesses with paid employees at a detailed industry level. These data give users information about the breadth of business activity within a district and its effects.

My Congressional District is one of a suite of Web tools that are accessible through the Census API, and is part of the Census Bureau’s effort to expand access to our data through new tools and technologies. Our digital transformation aims to help our almost 50 million annual visitors more easily find the information they want, expose our audience to new data sets, and increase statistical literacy.

As with all Census Bureau tools, statistics from My Congressional District are easy to download and share on social media. You can also embed the interactive Web app on your own website. Whether you access My Congressional District as an embedded Web app or through, you’ll always get the most up-to-date statistics available.

I hope you enjoy learning more about your congressional district and the communities you care about through our statistics. We’re always looking for ways to make our tools more useful, and I encourage you to submit your feedback through the “Tell us what you think” link. If you like My Congressional District, check out our three mobile apps and other interactive data tools.

Planning for the 2020 Census

CENSUS Directors Blog - Fri, 02/05/2016 - 23:10

Written by: John H. Thompson

As you know, planning for the 2020 Census is underway. We’re already making key decisions about how the next census will be carried out. Our goal is a complete and accurate census — counting everyone once, only once, and in the right place. We’ve been studying cost-saving design innovations for the last three years; now we’re shifting our focus to operationalizing those innovations and ensuring that they will produce a quality census in 2020.

We are on track to do just that. We’ve already conducted extensive research and testing that makes us confident in our current design plan. From 2012 through 2015, we conducted seven census tests across the country to study a wide range of topics — from race and ethnicity questions to automating field operations to Internet response. The results were critical to informing the decisions in our operational plan.

The Census Bureau released the 2020 Census Operational Plan in October — three years earlier than we did before the 2010 Census. This means we have additional time to refine and test all of the systems and innovations we need for a complete and accurate count in 2020. We’ve already started making the decisions laid out in the operating plan — right as scheduled — and we’ll continue to do so. We have 62 key decisions to make in 2016, including finalizing how we will follow up with people who don’t respond to the census.

Releasing the operational plan five years before the 2020 Census also gives us time to communicate our plans and incorporate feedback from experts, Congress, advisory committees and the public in our decision-making process. One way we’re keeping you informed is by webcasting all of our 2020 Census Program Management Reviews so that you can be aware of what decisions we’re making, how we’re making them, and when we are making them. We want to keep everyone apprised of our progress.

One recommendation we’ve received – and acted on – was from the Government Accountability Office, to examine whether any decisions could be made ahead of schedule to reduce risk. At the last program management review on Jan. 29, we announced a decision about how census takers will collect information via Internet-enabled devices, like smartphones. In our early testing, we examined allowing census takers to “bring your own device” (BYOD) and conduct work using their own smartphone and cellular plans. Based on our research from the 2014 and 2015 tests, we found several challenges that made it clear that BYOD wasn’t the best choice for the 2020 Census. Based on this research, we made an early decision to provide equipment to census takers rather than asking them to use their own.

Planning for the 2020 Census is on schedule and right where it should be. I urge you to follow along with our progress at the 2020 Census page.

Improvements to the Release of Economic Indicators Mean You Get Data Faster

CENSUS Directors Blog - Fri, 01/15/2016 - 20:30

Written by: John H. Thompson

Every month, the Census Bureau releases key indicators of America’s economy. These indicators are critical to the analysis of the nation’s current and future economic performance. Businesses in America, and around the world, rely heavily upon them to make decisions every day.

Today, the Census Bureau announced a significant improvement in the way we release these indicators. We’ve reduced the lag between the indicators’ official release and when they are posted to the web to the smallest it’s ever been. As of today, every person in America will have access to the indicators in as little as one second after their release.

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This improvement comes in response to our customers’ requests for more timely access to our data. Because of the indicators’ value, data users such as business owners, researchers, investors, economists and policymakers want access to it as quickly as possible.

Enhancing the accessibility of our data via the web is a key aspect of the Census Bureau’s digital transformation. The new streamlined, automated method allows customers to access economic indicators on more expeditiously and efficiently by optimizing the process required to post economic indicator data to the Internet.

To view today’s release of economic indicators, click here. You can find more economic indicators from the Census Bureau at or by downloading the America’s Economy app.

Fore more information about the Census Bureau’s digital transformation and the release of economic indicators, please contact the Public Information Office at

The Year in Review

CENSUS Directors Blog - Thu, 12/31/2015 - 22:16

Written by: John H. Thompson

As the year comes to a close, I want to recognize all of the hard work and notable achievements that have taken place at the U.S. Census Bureau over the past year. As the leading source of statistics on our nation’s people, places and economy, we’re always striving to serve our customers better – whether they are responding to a survey or want data about their community. 2015 was no exception.

This year, we conducted over 130 surveys. We published a wealth of statistics and data, including a major release on income, poverty and health insurance in America. We rolled out several exciting tools to make our data easier to use, such as Census Business Builder: Small Business Edition, a new tool aimed at helping entrepreneurs start businesses. We announced new ways to get our data earlier than before, and made some of our existing data sets available for free.

We added three new Federal Statistical Research Data Centers to our data center network, bringing our total to 22. We continued to produce research that is central to our mission, with over 70 research papers and over 100 presentations at a variety of major scientific forums – including the Joint Statistical Meetings, the Population Association of America, the American Association of Geographers, the American Association of Public Opinion Research and the Allied Social Science Association Meetings. And of course, we continued to map out improvements for future censuses and surveys, including the American Community Survey, the 2017 Economic Census and the 2020 Census. In addition to the excellent, ongoing work that the Census Bureau does, I want to highlight some key achievements from 2015:

  • I’m very proud that we released the operational plan for the 2020 Census, the blueprint for a historic census of “firsts.” The 2020 Census will be the most automated and technologically advanced census ever. Innovations in the operational plan will make it easier than ever for people to respond to the census, and will save taxpayers more than $5 billion compared to doing the census the old way. Through the smart use of technology and information, we can automate our data collection and field operations to make the entire census more efficient and accessible.
  • This year we conducted two successful census tests. In Georgia and South Carolina, we explored new outreach and promotion strategies, and learned more about the best ways for people to complete the census quickly and securely over the Internet. In Maricopa County, Arizona, we evaluated new technologies for collecting and processing responses to the census, and tested a new field management structure. This research is critical to making important design decisions for the 2020 Census. We’ll continue our preparations for the 2020 Census with two more tests in 2016 – in Harris County, Texas and Los Angeles County, California.
  • 2015 marked the anniversary of the American Community Survey, which has now provided U.S. communities with detailed information for 10 years. As the nation’s largest ongoing household survey, the ACS produced statistics annually – down to the block group level – for every community in the nation. In December, we released the latest ACS five-year statistics, which allowed users to compare two non-overlapping, five-year data sets for the first time. Users can now identify trends for social and economic characteristics for even the smallest communities on a more frequent basis.
  • We began collecting data for the first Annual Survey of Entrepreneurs as part of a three-year pilot project in partnership with the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and the Minority Business Development Agency.  This new survey responds to our customers’ requests for more timely data by providing an updated socio-economic portrait of America’s business owners in the years between the Survey of Business Owners. Data from the 2014 Annual Survey of Entrepreneurs – including estimates on firms, receipts, payroll and employment by business owners’ gender, ethnicity, race and veteran status – are tentatively scheduled to be released next summer.
  • Earlier this year we debuted our City Software Development Kit (SDK), a user-friendly “toolbox” for civic hackers to connect local and national public data. Developers asked for an easier way to use the Census API for common tasks, and the SDK is our answer. Currently, we have distributed over 12,030 developer keys. Last month the SDK was named the Federal Government’s 2015 Innovation of the Year by Fed Scoop.
  • In January, 55 Census Bureau employees won Gold and Silver Medal awards from the Secretary of Commerce for distinguished and exceptional service. Throughout the year, employees have continued to win accolades, including the Arthur S. Flemming Award in Applied Science; the Innovation Initiative Excellence Award from AFCEA Bethesda; the Special Achievement in GIS Award from Esri; the Leader of the Year in Enterprise Risk Management from the Association for Federal Enterprise Risk Management; and the Energy and Environmental Stewardship Award from the Department of Commerce.

Thank you to all of the Census Bureau employees whose hard work has paid off so impressively this year. As we look forward to the New Year, 2016 is shaping up to be just as productive. With research and innovation, we’ll continue to provide quality data about America’s people and economy.

On the Road in New Mexico

CENSUS Directors Blog - Mon, 11/30/2015 - 22:35

Written by: John H. Thompson

Earlier this month I visited New Mexico to participate in the Census Bureau’s fifth tribal consultation meeting this year. These meetings are a key part of our preparations for the 2020 Census, and I’m grateful to the All Pueblo Council of Governors and the Pueblo of Isleta for hosting and to the attendees who contributed to a thoughtful and productive discussion.

New Mexico is a remarkable state, and I enjoyed meeting its people and learning more about the challenges of counting those who live in rural areas. Here are some photos from my visit to Albuquerque, parts of the Navajo Nation including the To’hajiilee Indian Reservation, Laguna Pueblo and Acoma Pueblo.

For more information about the topics of discussion at the Census Bureau’s meetings with tribes, check out my blog posts on the tribal consultation process and on my trip to Alaska in October. There are more pictures of my trip on Facebook and Instagram.

In the Navajo Nation, I learned about challenges associated with census interviews in Indian Country. I also visited the monument to the Navajo Code Talkers in Window Rock.

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The Canyon de Chelly was a great place to learn about the challenges of enumerating hard-to-count populations. In 2020, our mission will be to count every American in the right place – including those living on the canyon floor.

The landscape of the Laguna Pueblo illustrates some of the challenges of rural enumeration. The pueblo includes the six villages of Encinal, Laguna, Mesita, Paguate, Paraje and Seama, whose combined total population was 3,815 persons in the 2000 Census.

The landscape of the Laguna Pueblo illustrates some of the challenges of rural enumeration. The pueblo includes the six villages of Encinal, Laguna, Mesita, Paguate, Paraje and Seama, whose combined total population was 3,815 persons in the 2000 Census.

I met with Data Dissemination Specialist Amadeo Shije and Field Supervisor Mark Zyniecki to talk about enumeration in Indian Country.

I met with Data Dissemination Specialist Amadeo Shije and Field Supervisor Mark Zyniecki to talk about enumeration in Indian Country.

I met with the Governor of the Pueblo of Acoma, Fred S. Vallo, Sr.

I met with the Governor of the Pueblo of Acoma, Fred S. Vallo, Sr.

This beautiful rock formation is on the Acoma Pueblo. According to the 2010 Census, 4,989 people identified as Acoma.

This beautiful rock formation is on the Acoma Pueblo. According to the 2010 Census, 4,989 people identified as Acoma.

I met with the New Mexico state offices of Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, Rep. Stevan Pierce, Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, Senator Martin Heinrich, and Sen. Tom Udall to discuss the tribal consultation process and the operating plan for the 2020 Census.

I met with the New Mexico state offices of Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, Rep. Stevan Pierce, Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, Senator Martin Heinrich, and Sen. Tom Udall to discuss the tribal consultation process and the operating plan for the 2020 Census.


Releasing the 2020 Census Operational Plan to Congress and Our Valued Stakeholders

CENSUS Directors Blog - Tue, 11/24/2015 - 01:51

Written by: John H. Thompson

On November 3, I presented the Census Bureau’s operational plan for the 2020 Census – the blueprint by which we’ll conduct the next census – to Congress and the public. I was excited to tell the House Subcommittees on Government Operations and Information Technology about the depth and strength of our plan. Today, I want to go over some of the highlights from my testimony about the operational plan and our preparations for the 2020 Census.

In 2013, in response to funding constraints, we prioritized the 2020 Census research program. At that point we established the end of Fiscal Year 2015 as a key milestone for releasing the operational plan for the 2020 Census. I was pleased to inform the Subcommittees that we had met that goal, and that our plan is supported by solid research, including the 2014 and 2015 tests.

I was proud to report that in 2020 we will no longer use the paper-and-pencil processes that have characterized each census since 1970. The operational plan lays out four key areas of innovation that will ultimately deliver $5.2 billion in savings to the American taxpayers. The 2020 Census will be the most automated census ever, and we’re developing technologies and systems that will increase the efficiency of administering the once-a-decade headcount. We’re taking full advantage of the opportunity to innovate and using off-the-shelf technological advances from the last 10 years.

The operational plan details our research on the infrastructure that we need to take the census online. Through testing and development, we’ve developed prototype systems that incorporate mobile technology and optimal work assignments. A key component of these efforts is the Census Enterprise Data Collection and Processing (CEDCaP) initiative, a new agency-wide approach to survey and census data collection and processing. We’re simplifying and integrating – moving to a small suite of shared, reusable systems instead of creating duplicative systems for each survey and census. This new, sustainable approach will enable us to conduct a modernized 2020 Census.

I also told the Subcommittees about our plans to manage the risks associated with delivering the most automated census ever, including:

  • Delivering the 2020 operational plan three years earlier than in the 2010 census cycle. Releasing our plans now gives us additional time to communicate our plans and decision making process to Congress and other stakeholders.
  • Making innovative use of existing technology and software. -to-date tools – instead of inventing our own – we can make the best use of technological advances for an accurate and cost-effective census.
  • Developed a working prototype for the census that we successfully tested in 2015. Based on this prototype, we’ve drawn up most of the census’ specifications; we’ll finish this work based on the results of tests in 2016 and 2017.
  • Establishing milestones for an end-to-end test of our systems. In 2018, we’ll hold a critical test of all of the census’ major systems. This end-to-end test will represent the culmination of research and testing, as we implement the planned census operations in real-time.
  • Minimizing risk by making timely decisions. The operational plan shares a number of decisions that we’ve already made in preparation for the 2018 end-to-end test, and lays out a timeline for the remaining decisions that we must make.
  • Recognizing the need for timely decisions on which systems we need to build internally, and which we need to buy from external sources. We’ve engaged the Carnegie Mellon Software Engineering Institute to guide us in this area and to ensure that this critical decision making process is successful.

Based on my experience in overseeing the 2000 Census and in the private sector, I am confident that the plan outlined above will lead to a successful implementation of our automation and systems development for 2020. Right now, we are on schedule to deliver a census in 2020 that is both innovative and cost effective – but we’re also at a critical juncture. In order to execute a 2020 Census that reduces costs while maintaining quality, we must receive adequate funding for the entire lifecycle. By investing now, we can save more than $5 billion while ensuring we produce an accurate and cost-effective Census.

I must emphasize again how pleased I was to have the opportunity to update our oversight subcommittees in the House of Representatives, and to tell them that we’re on schedule to deliver a 2020 Census that is that is both innovative and cost effective. By taking a proactive approach in researching and testing modern, groundbreaking methods, we can make the 2020 Census the most cost-effective and automated Census ever.

World Statistics Day 2015: Better Data. Better Lives.

CENSUS Directors Blog - Tue, 10/20/2015 - 20:06

Written by: John H. Thompson

The United Nations General Assembly designated October 20, 2015 as the second-ever World Statistics Day to highlight the many achievements of national statistical systems across the globe. The U.S. government has a long history of collecting data about the nation’s people, places and economy – beginning with the first census in 1790. Today, the Census Bureau and other federal statistical agencies publish the statistics the nation uses to record progress and plan for the future.

In the United States, quality, timely, accessible data is the foundation of good decision-making. Policy makers at every level of government, businesses of all sizes, and individuals across America all depend on statistics to make informed decisions. That’s why the Census Bureau is committed to continually improving our data sources and statistical methods – to enable better decisions that ultimately result in better lives for all of us.WSD_Logo_Final_Languages_Outline

One of the key ways that the Census Bureau meets that commitment is through the innovative use of technology. The advent of modern computing and the Internet have revolutionized the way we collect, process and share data, and we’re making smart use of technology to make future censuses and surveys more efficient. More than 60 of our censuses and surveys now have an online response option, and in 2017, the Economic Census will move to 100% electronic data collection. In 2020, the decennial census is making the leap from pencil and paper to the Internet. Among the many innovations that will be deployed for the 2020 Census, we’re making it easier and more convenient than ever to complete the census by adding an option for online response. We’re also giving mobile devices with special software to census takers – allowing them securely transmit daily assignments, real-time updates, timesheets, and even calculate the best route for that day’s workload.

Innovation and digital technology also let us share our statistics more widely and easily than ever. We’ve made major upgrades to to make Census Bureau statistics as accessible as possible to our more than 40 million annual visitors. We’ve created mobile apps and interactive digital tools to expand access to our statistics – most recently we released Census Business Builder: Small Business Edition to help entrepreneurs get access to statistics that can help them start or grow a business. Our API and the City Software Development Kit give developers and entrepreneurs access to our statistics in a format that makes it easy to mash up and consume.

The possible ways to use all of these readily available statistics are endless. Companies like Zillow and Target are able to understand more about the communities and consumers they serve; government agencies can better simulate the spread of infections diseases and prepare for the next potential outbreak; and educators can change the way their students think about math, numbers and life.

Today I encourage you to learn more about the ways that official statistics help people around the world develop informed policies that improve lives. Visit to learn more about how the national statistical systems in Indonesia, Germany, New Zealand and many other countries are meeting the challenge of Better Data. Better Lives. Happy World Statistics Day!

On the Road in Alaska

CENSUS Directors Blog - Sat, 10/17/2015 - 01:58

Written by: John H. Thompson

Last week I wrote about the series of tribal consultation meetings that the U.S. Census Bureau is holding across the country. These consultations are one aspect of our preparations for the 2020 Census, just like our release of the operational plan last week. This week I am in Anchorage, Alaska to attend the second of the eight consultations, in conjunction with the annual convention of the Alaska Federation of Natives.

This meeting is especially significant because the Remote Alaska enumeration is the first activity that will kick off the 2020 Census. Between January and April 2020, Census enumerators will visit the most sparsely settled, isolated parts of Alaska – areas that are accessible only by small plane, boat, snowmobile, four-wheel drive vehicles, or dog sled. This enumeration starts early in the year in order to reach the people in these remote locations before the spring thaw, when travel to these areas may be even more difficult.

It’s been a fascinating trip. I’ve enjoyed visiting Alaska, meeting new people, listening to the thoughtful discussions at the tribal consultation – and even seeing local artwork by Alaska Native and Native American artists. I’m so grateful to the people of Alaska for their hospitality.


Director Thompson is in Alaska for the second #2020census tribal consultation. This week he also visited the Alaska Dispatch to discuss plans for the 2020 Census and during his visit at the paper, ran into Senator Murkowski.

Lisa Blumerman2

Check out more pictures from the Alaska Native Customary Art Fair. Associate Director Lisa Blumerman and Director Thompson are in town for the #2020Census tribal consultation. #Alaska #AlaskaNative #Art #AmericanIndian


Director Thompson is in Alaska for the second #2020census tribal consultation. While there he visited the Alaska Native Customary Art Fair. #Alaska #Art #AmericanIndian #AlaskaNative

U.S. Census Bureau Seeks Input from Tribal Leaders for 2020 Census

CENSUS Directors Blog - Wed, 10/07/2015 - 23:37

Written by: John H. Thompson

Today, Census Bureau officials are meeting with representatives from the Midwest Alliance of Sovereign Tribes in Minnesota to discuss issues that affect American Indian and Alaska Native communities (AIAN) ahead of the 2020 Census. This is a critical part of our overall communication and outreach efforts directed at ensuring an accurate, cost-effective population count in 2020. I’m excited to collaborate with tribal leaders, and eager to hear their thoughts on how we can better serve their communities.

This is the first of eight tribal consultation meetings, plus a national webinar that all federally recognized tribes will be invited to attend, that the Census Bureau will hold across the country over the next six months. Through these meetings, we hope to meet with representatives from as many of the more than 500 federally recognized tribes as possible. Building awareness about the importance of the 2020 Census is essential in motivating response to the census in communities across our diverse nation, including the AIAN population living both on and off tribal lands. It’s also our responsibility as a government agency, following an Executive Order signed in 2000, that we hold meaningful and accountable consultations with tribes on matters that have significant tribal implications.

Our past collaborations with tribal governments and American Indian organizations have been very productive; I know that AIAN outreach and partnerships can have a big impact from my time overseeing the 2000 Census. We also had great success working with the National Congress of American Indians on the Indian Country Counts campaign during the 2010 Census.

Today’s meeting is the first of many times that we’ll be reaching out to and communicating with the AIAN community ahead of the 2020 Census. We’re keen to build on our government-to-government relationship to receive feedback. Through collaboration, we can make progress in a way that meets the community’s needs, and helps the Census Bureau listen to and use the AIAN population’s input to increase the response rate and accuracy in Indian country. We also want to get information from tribal leaders on topics like outreach and promotion, data collection operations, geography and others.

I’m excited to attend the next tribal consultation on October 14 in Anchorage, Alaska – stay tuned for an update from me about that meeting. I’m confident that by working together, we can make progress in a way that meets the community’s needs, and helps the Census Bureau capture the best possible information about the American Indian and Alaska Native population.

The 2020 Census: The Most Innovative Census in our Nation’s History

CENSUS Directors Blog - Tue, 10/06/2015 - 22:53

Written by: John H. Thompson

Today is a big day in the U.S. Census Bureau’s planning for the 2020 Census – we are unveiling the operational plan for the most innovative and automated census in our nation’s history.

The census occurs every 10 years and is the largest civilian mobilization effort the nation undertakes. It is the very foundation of our democracy and a constitutional requirement. In 2020, we’ll have just a few short months to count what we estimate will be more than 320 million people in this country – counting them only once, and in the right place. It’s a complicated logistical challenge, and we only have one shot at getting it right.

We’re releasing this plan five years prior to the 2020 Census – three years earlier than we released the 2010 plan a decade ago. This lets us thoroughly test each innovation and refine the plan with those results.

Sweeping innovations in the 2020 Census Operational Plan will make it easier than ever for people to respond, and will save taxpayers more than $5 billion compared to doing the census the old way with pencil and paper. In 2020, the census is making the leap to the Internet. The smart use of technology and information will make the 2020 Census more efficient and accessible.

The most sweeping changes for the 2020 Census focus on these four key innovation areas:

  1. Making it easier for people to respond. We’ll encourage the population to respond to the 2020 Census using the Internet, reducing the need for more expensive data capture. This will save an estimated $400 million.
  2. Using existing data to reduce door-to-door visits. We will use data that the public has already provided to the government and data that is available from commercial sources. The savings from this innovation – estimated at $1.4 billion – will allow us to focus additional visits in areas that have been traditionally hard-to-enumerate.
  3. Automating field operations. We’ll use sophisticated operational control systems to send Census enumerators to follow up with non-responding housing units and to track daily progress, saving an estimated $2.5 billion.
  4. Building a more accurate address list. We are adding new addresses to the Census Bureau’s address frame using geographic information systems and aerial imagery, instead of sending Census employees to walk and physically check 11 million census blocks. This will cut our on-the-ground workload 75%, saving an estimated $900 million.

As always, your confidentiality and privacy are important to us. That’s why the plan spells out how we will thoroughly test every component of census operations, piece-by-piece and as a whole.  We’re working with some of the best minds in industry to ensure the success of the census, borrowing best practices from global companies. We’ll use layers of information security protections and protocol to secure the systems we use and the data we collect. All data will be encrypted and safeguarded, and all staff are trained to protect it and sworn to maintain confidentiality, under penalty of imprisonment or fines.

In closing, this will be a historic census, a census of “firsts.” The first that most of us will respond to online. The first to use aerial imagery to verify that our list of addresses for the nation is correct and up-to-date. The first that automates follow-up work for those that do not respond to the census – optimizing assignments, letting census takers know right away which households have already responded, and sending them GPS-based, turn-by-turn directions to follow up with households that have not.

The automations and innovations that we’ll use are truly groundbreaking for collecting statistics, and everyone here at the Census Bureau is excited to roll out these plans for the American public.

To learn more about the 2020 Census operational plan, tune in to our webcast event today at 1pm ET.

Celebrating Manufacturing Day with U.S. Census Bureau Statistics

CENSUS Directors Blog - Thu, 10/01/2015 - 20:28

Written by: John H. Thompson

October 2 is Manufacturing Day, and I’m pleased to participate in this year’s observance by recognizing the major role that manufacturing plays in our national and global economy. Every year, U.S. manufacturers produce nearly $6 trillion in shipments and employ people across the nation. Modern manufacturing is a technology-driven industry that produces innovative ideas and products that are used across the globe.

A major source of statistics on our nation’s manufacturing is the Annual Survey of Manufactures (ASM), which provides sample estimates of statistics for manufacturing establishments with one or more paid employees.  Earlier this year, we released statistics from the 2013 ASM for 364 manufacturing industries.  We also released less detailed industry statistics by state in the 2013 ASM.

Mfg1ASM data tell us a lot about American manufacturing. For example, nationally, there were 11.1 million manufacturing employees, annual payroll of $602.9 billion, and value of shipments and receipts for services of $5.8 trillion. The three states with the most manufacturing employees in 2013 were California, Texas and Ohio. California topped the list with 1.1 million manufacturing employees. The data also show that California’s annual payroll for paid employees was $70.1 billion, and the value of shipments and receipts was $524.5 billion.

In addition to the ASM, the Census Bureau releases a broad range of information relating to American manufacturing from the Economic Census, which provides additional detail on the number of manufacturing establishments, employment, payroll, receipts, value of shipments, expenses, assets and a host of other topics on 364 manufacturing industries.

Census Bureau statistics on the manufacturing sector help manufacturers learn about their industries and communities and grow their businesses. You can check out the Census Bureau’s monthly manufacturing indicators – and a host of other measures of economic activity – by downloading our America’s Economy app to your mobile device.

Census Bureau Director Statement on IG Investigative Report

CENSUS Directors Blog - Fri, 09/18/2015 - 02:05

The employee misconduct detailed in the recent Department of Commerce Inspector General’s (IG) report is inexcusable and will not be tolerated. Any employees who allegedly falsified timesheets and betrayed the trust of the American public will be held personally accountable to the fullest extent of the law, including possible termination. Those employees implicated in the investigation and who have access to sensitive information and systems are being placed immediately on administrative leave pending further action. We will pursue legal action for reimbursement of money stolen from taxpayers for hours not worked.

As detailed in the report findings, the Census Bureau cooperated fully with the IG throughout the investigation and took prompt action as information about the misconduct surfaced.

The Census Bureau has already implemented or begun to implement all of the OIG’s recommendations, including:

  • Implementing more rigorous timekeeping and telework procedures throughout the agency.
  • Requiring mandatory training on our time and attendance (WebTA) system.
  • Engaging an outside auditor to conduct an agency wide review of time and attendance practices.
  • Initiating new quality control procedures.
  • Reviewing the sufficiency of previously completed background checks.
  • Replacing the office’s management structure.

Census has also retained an additional independent auditor to review the contracts handled by the office.

The unacceptable behavior alleged in the IG’s report does not reflect the work ethic and values held by the vast majority of Census Bureau employees, who are dedicated and professional public servants. We are confident that the findings in the IG report will ultimately make the Census Bureau a stronger institution and enhance our mission as the leading source of quality data about the nation’s people, places and economy.

New American Community Survey Data Released Today

CENSUS Directors Blog - Fri, 09/18/2015 - 01:18

Written by: John H. Thompson

Today the U.S. Census Bureau released a new set of annual data from the American Community Survey (ACS). The data give us unique insight into the year-to-year changes taking place in our communities across the nation. Beyond the topics highlighted in today’s news release – health insurance coverage, income and poverty levels – the ACS also produces statistics on dozens of other economic, social, housing and demographic topics.

To make informed decisions, policy makers, businesses and citizens need reliable and accessible data about the changing needs of their communities. As the largest continuous household survey in the United States, the ACS is uniquely able to provide the depth and range of data needed by both the public and private sectors.

The survey covers every geographic area in the U.S., making it the only uniform measure that every county nationwide can use. It has an unparalleled breadth, and is the only available source of data for many of the issues that it covers. It is from a trusted, unbiased source, and it levels the playing field by providing all of its data to the public free of charge.

Federal programs use ACS data to disburse over $400 billion a year to tribal, state and local areas. Business and community leaders in turn use ACS data to analyze how the needs of their neighborhoods are evolving, and how to use their resources to meet those needs. For example:

  • The Greater Houston Partnership – a regional economic development organization – uses ACS data to answer companies’ questions about issues like commuting times and the availability of science and engineering workers.
  • Following Super Storm Sandy in 2012, emergency responders in New Jersey used demographic data from the ACS to estimate the volume of traffic in affected areas.
  • When combined with economic and consumer spending data, ACS data can help entrepreneurs identify potential customers and desirable geographic areas to start a business. The Census Bureau recently released Census Business Builder: Small Business Edition to give small business entrepreneurs easier access to that data.
  • Officials from Oklahoma County, Okla., and the United Way use ACS data on poverty, homeownership, and the prevalence of disabilities to identify ways to make their county more senior-friendly.

These are just a few of the many ways that ACS data are tailored to help guide myriad specific decisions across the country. The ACS makes our governments smarter, our businesses more competitive and our citizens more informed. The Census Bureau is proud to provide the most timely, comprehensive, and statistically precise data source for their decision making processes.

To access today’s release of data from the American Community Survey, check out the press release with the findings. You can also check out the data on income, poverty and health insurance coverage from the Current Population Survey that the Census Bureau released this week.


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