Written by: John H. Thompson
The Census Bureau, as well as the rest of the Department of Commerce, is an enthusiastic proponent of open government. Since the first census in 1790, a key part of our mission has been to collect and distribute data and statistics about American people, places and economy. Our data help governments, businesses and individuals make better-informed decisions, and we’re keen for it to provide value to as many people as possible.
As part of Sunshine Week 2015, we highlighted the ways we continue to embrace the principles of transparency, participation and collaboration. Census Bureau employees, other federal agencies and the public shared many great ideas and initiatives – from new digital tools that make our data useful to new audiences to webcasting our advisory committee meetings and updates about our plans for the 2020 Census.
Of course, a big topic in our discussion about open government was the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Celebrating its 50th birthday next year, FOIA gives individuals and organizations the right to access federal agencies’ records (with a few exceptions, such as some personnel information). Did you know that you can submit a FOIA request to any agency, asking for access to records on any topic?
To ask for materials from the Census Bureau under FOIA, you can submit a written request, or use FOIAonline or email email@example.com to submit a request electronically. The Census Bureau has a step-by-step FAQ to help guide you through the process. You can see the range of FOIA requests that the Census Bureau gets by generating a report in FOIAonline. Additionally, you can search for FOIA requests, appeals, and previously released records stored across multiple agencies, in a central repository on FOIAonline.
The public expects and deserves to have access to even more information and data, and the Census Bureau is always seeking ways to be even more accessible, and to involve the public in our data and decision-making processes. I encourage you to visit www.census.gov for a wealth of agency information, statistics and data tools – including our FOIA Library of frequently requested documents.
Written by: John H. Thompson
Right now, the U.S. Census Bureau is conducting a survey to gather user feedback on American Community Survey data products. The American Community Survey is an indispensable resource that provides data about who we are and how our population is changing. We want to ensure the American Community Survey program continues to produce relevant, timely and accessible data products that the public needs.
The American Community Survey provides vital information about the American population. It is the only source of quality information about the people in all of our nation’s communities, including information on age, children, veterans, income, employment, education and so on. Not surprisingly, governments, businesses, researchers and advocates extensively use American Community Survey data to make better decisions to make our country stronger.
Most of the statistics you see about the people in our communities either come directly from the American Community Survey or are derived in part from it. There is no substitute for the American Community Survey, and the Census Bureau is committed to making it as meaningful as possible to data users and the communities they serve.
If you’re among the many users of American Community Survey data, we want to hear from you. We’re looking for feedback on the content of data products and usage of geographic areas, the coinciding documentation that’s currently provided on our website, and data product access and dissemination.
To take the ACS Data Products Survey, please visit our website by May 29, 2015. It should take no longer than 15 minutes to complete.
For more information about the American Community Survey program, you can also sign up to receive email updates, become a member of the American Community Survey Data Users Online Community, or register to attend the second annual American Community Survey Data Users Conference on May 11-13, 2015.
Written by: John H. Thompson
Today, April 1, marks Census Day for the Savannah, Georgia and Maricopa County, Arizona areas, sites where two important test censuses are underway.
During the decennial census every 10 years, Census Day provides the reference day for measuring the population. We’re using the same reference day for the 2015 Census Tests in the Savannah and Maricopa County areas.
If you live in one of our 2015 test sites, I encourage you to learn more about the tests by visiting www.census.gov/2015censustests. Your participation is appreciated and will help us make critical design decisions that will shape how the rest of America participates in the next census in 2020. Mandated by the Constitution, the decennial census counts the residents of the United States once a decade. It determines the number of seats each state has in the U.S House of Representatives, and how over $400 billion in federal funds are distributed to state, tribal, and local communities each year. The census is a huge undertaking, and the cost has increased significantly each decade. Our design changes will help us hold the cost down in 2020.
We are conducting these tests five years before the actual Census Day on April 1, 2020, to learn how to leverage new technologies and apply innovative methods to census operations in a real-world census environment. Our goal is a more efficient and cost-effective census that continues to produce high quality data.
We are testing different things at each site. In the 20 counties in Georgia and South Carolina that are part of the Savannah area test, we are exploring new outreach and promotion strategies to inform the public about the census. We are also learning the best ways to allow residents to complete the questionnaire quickly and securely over the Internet.
In Maricopa County, we are evaluating new technologies for collecting and processing responses to the census. We also will be testing a new field management structure to see if it improves the efficiency and effectiveness of operations to interview households that don’t complete their census test questionnaire during the self-response phase.
The timing of these tests is critical as we must make important design decisions later this year. By 2018, we must lock in operating systems and methods for the 2020 Census. These tests, and those planned for 2016 and 2017, will give us the information we need to build our systems and develop the processes we will use to implement the largest peacetime operation conducted in the United States.
The 2020 Census will be unlike any other in history thanks to the tests we are conducting now. The new methods that we are researching will result in savings estimated to be approximately $5 billion from the projected cost of using methods from the 2010 Census.
Written by: John H. Thompson, Director, U.S. Census Bureau and Mark Doms, Under Secretary for Economic Affairs, U.S. Department of Commerce
The 2015 Census Test in the Savannah, Ga. area starts today! If you live in one of the 20 counties in Georgia and South Carolina that are participating in the test, we encourage you to visit www.census.gov/2015 to complete the census test form online.
This morning, we were at Savannah Technical College to kick off the 2015 Census Test. Lisa Blumerman, Associate Director for Decennial Census Programs, and Savannah Mayor Edna Jackson joined us for a news conference and meetings with community influencers. We explained how the Census Bureau is using the test to encourage residents to respond to the census online. Because of its population density, demographic diversity and the mixed rates of Internet access, the Savannah area is a great place for us to test digital outreach methods for different population groups.
The Census Bureau is relying on residents, local governments, faith-based and community organizations, schools, media, businesses and others to help this effort succeed. This afternoon, Under Secretary Doms visited America’s Second Harvest of Coastal Georgia to help prepare emergency meal boxes for area residents who are at risk of hunger. Volunteers helped us insert flyers into the boxes with information about the 2015 Census Test and instructions for completing it online. Later, in a visit to the Port of Savannah, Under Secretary Doms talked about how the Census Bureau is the official source for the nation’s export and import statistics, and is responsible for issuing regulations governing the reporting of all export shipments from the United States.
Director Thompson stopped by a school in Jasper County, S.C. to talk to students and administrators about how an accurate census count can help their community receive funding for education – as well as roads, hospitals, job training centers and a host of other services. The director also spoke to residents of Sun City Hilton Head, a retirement community in Bluffton, S.C., about how responding to the census test online is secure and easy for everyone.
The strategies we’re testing in Georgia and South Carolina encourage residents to complete the questionnaire quickly and securely over the Internet with a computer, tablet or smartphone. The 2015 Census Test in the Savannah area will pave the way for a reengineered and more cost-effective 2020 Census. Research leading up to 2020 could result in saving up to $5 billion from the projected cost of conducting the head count using methods from previous censuses.
For photos of our trip, follow the Census Bureau on Instagram.
Written by: John H. Thompson
The U.S. Census Bureau provides the definitive decennial count of America’s people and places, and a key part of that task is counting people in the right places – the cities, towns and counties where they live and work – to safeguard Americans receiving their fair share of funds. For this reason, Census Bureau geographers are hard at work to ensure that the record of our nation’s places is up to date.
The Boundary and Annexation Survey, which is currently underway, fulfills the Census Bureau’s responsibility for recording all legal boundaries in the U.S. – things like city limits, townships and Congressional districts. Through this survey, governments can report their incorporations, annexations and official name changes.
Why is it important for local governments to participate in the Boundary and Annexation Survey? For one thing, the Census Bureau’s boundary records help place population information from the decennial census, the American Community Survey and the annual Population Estimates Program in the correct local area. Because the American Community Survey population information is tied to funding for schools, roads, hospitals and many other services, it’s in local governments’ best interests to make sure records are correct.
The Census Bureau is responsible for the nation’s legal boundaries and population data – they are publicly available and used by many other federal agencies, researchers and the public. Consequently, providing updates to our data ensures it is accurate, and those updates ripple out in numerous important ways.
We are soliciting responses to the Boundary and Annexation Survey through May 31. To help make things as easy as possible, we’ve created a YouTube channel with training videos. Even if your local area hasn’t had any boundary changes in the last year, it’s still critical that you review your boundaries for accuracy and respond to the Boundary and Annexation Survey with that information (just check “No changes” on the form) so that we will know you have verified the accuracy of the information.
If you’re a local, county or tribal official or staff person with questions about the Boundary and Annexation Survey or how to respond, please contact us at 1-800-972-5651 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Materials for the 2015 survey and FAQs are also available online at www.census.gov/geo/partnerships/bas.html.
Written by: John H. Thompson
Over the past few years, the Census Bureau has devoted substantial resources to researching new methods and technologies to reengineer the 2020 Census . The smart use of technology will keep the headcount quick, easy and secure, while leading to substantial taxpayer savings – our goal is to save up to $5 billion in operating costs in 2020.
FY 2016 is a critical year for the continued investment in testing the cost-saving innovations that we expect will save $5 billion during the 2020 Census while maintaining the quality of the data. We are also developing a new data collection and processing system that will support new technologies and programs across the Census Bureau for years to come. We need to get the new systems built in time to conduct the 2018 Operational Readiness Test, a comprehensive examination to determine if all components are operating correctly and in conjunction in a real world environment. By investing now, we will be able to build the complex, integrated systems to support modernized operations in 2020.
Written by: John H. Thompson
At the U.S. Census Bureau, we’re researching ways to use technology to transform the way we do business. Not only will this transformation keep our censuses and surveys quick, easy, and secure, it will reverse the decades-long trend of increasingly more expensive operations.
Over the past four years, we’ve researched cost-saving innovations. We’ve come up with an exciting blueprint of what is possible in a census when we entirely rethink our operations and leverage technology. The President’s FY 2016 budget, released yesterday, funds the design of these systems and the testing of those together with new operations.
While 2020 might seem like a long way off, it is coming quickly: we must design operations, test systems and bring them together to “lock down” the final plan by 2018 to be ready by 2020. Our proposals for transforming the census through technological innovation include:
• Reengineering address canvassing: Prior to every Census, we compile a list of every housing unit in America. Developing a high-quality address list is crucial to the success of the census. By using address updates from the U.S. Postal Service and local governments – combined with imagery and private sector sources – we can drastically cut the cost of editing this list.
• Maximizing self-response: Our experience with the American Community Survey and the 2012 Economic Census demonstrate the promise of the Internet for maximizing self-responses to surveys. By allowing respondents to easily answer the questionnaire online, we can save millions on the costs of mailing out, getting back, scanning and hand-keying the information from paper forms into our system. At the same time, we need to authenticate online responses to ensure that they are genuine and not duplicative.
• Using administrative records: Another way that we can make our operations more efficient is by using records from other federal agencies to improve our counts of people and places.
• Reengineering field operations: In 2010, much of the on-the-ground work by Census Bureau field representatives was done on paper. By adopting technology to automate work, we can make field operations more efficient and reduce our paperwork burden.
As you can imagine, designing systems of this scale takes time, and we only have one chance to “get it right.” That’s why we began planning for 2020 even before the 2010 Census, and why these next few years of testing, development and implementation are so important. We need to design, develop, and build our data collection and processing systems; test them individually for function; and then test them together to ensure that they function in a real-world setting.
Of course, the Census Bureau’s work includes much more than the decennial census, and our proposals for innovation reflect that. In other areas of our agency, we’re focusing on:
• Census Enterprise Data Collection and Processing: With millions of people responding to our many surveys and censuses each year, the Census Bureau does an enormous amount of data collection and processing. In the past, we created unique data collection and processing systems for every survey. Now, we’ll integrate and standardize those systems across the organization. This will save money and time, and help us to manage our operations in the most efficient way possible.
• Administrative records clearinghouse: Part of the mission of the federal statistical system (which includes the Census Bureau) is to “provide quality, unbiased data to support reasoned, disciplined decisions.” This clearinghouse will include administrative data from federal and federally-sponsored programs, making them easier to use. Researchers, program administrators and policy makers can access and evaluate the program records easily and use them to provide new insights and evidence for sound decision-making.
• Geographic support: The Geographic Support Systems Initiative enable us to make ongoing updates to our address lists and maps, and supports our efforts to reengineer the address canvassing operation for the 2020 Census by continually updating the Census Bureau’s address list throughout the decade. It increases the amount of addresses provided by state and local partners that we can add to our address list, and prepares us to use updates from commercial data and other sources. Crucially, the initiative provides updates for rural addresses, addresses in Puerto Rico, and group quarters.
• American Community Survey: The American Community Survey releases over 11 billion estimates each year, and is used to distribute more than $400 billion of federal dollars each year. We will research how we can reduce respondents’ burden, while keeping data quality high.
• Economic Census and Census of Governments: We need to streamline our processes in order to support 100% electronic responses to these censuses to increase their cost-effectiveness. We will also introduce new data products for maximum data quality and usefulness.
The 2020 Census will be unlike any other in census history. The next few years are critical to this effort. I encourage anyone who is interested in this process to follow along as we research, test and plan. You can watch our meetings online and participate through a civic dialogue. The census – which is an enumeration of the entire nation – will only succeed with the participation of the nation.
For an overview of the Census Bureau’s FY 2016 budget, you can view this infographic.
Written by: John H. Thompson
Recently, we rolled out two exciting new features on Census.gov — a better search engine and a new version of QuickFacts. Since the launch of Census.gov in 1994, the Internet has changed a lot. In an age of instant communication and 24/7 information sharing, our users want anytime, anywhere access to timely and relevant statistics. The Census Bureau is committed to making the statistics that define our growing, changing nation more accessible than ever before. Through these features, the Census Bureau is increasing the availability and usefulness of the statistics we collect from the American public.
Our new “smart search” not only provides the statistics you are looking for directly on the search page, but also shows visualizations of popular search topics and links to related information. You can now get statistics from multiple Census Bureau data sources on popular topics such as income, poverty and population.
For example, if you search for “California population,” the latest state population statistics, tables and visualizations will appear. You’ll also see other statistics about California that you might be interested in, such as median household income or total housing units. You can filter search results by images and videos as well.
Our search function now also includes NAICS (North American Industry Classification System) codes, making business information easier to access. Business leaders will instantly find information essential to their industries.
Based on customer feedback, we’ve also released a completely reimagined QuickFacts site, available in beta at www.census.gov/quickfacts. Prior to this revamp, the QuickFacts application had been virtually unchanged since its launch in 2000. This new version maintains the original ease of use but also includes many improvements, like fully interactive, customized tables that let you view statistics for up to six locations side by side. Want to view data on a map instead of a table? Now you can.
We’ve also added charting, social media sharing, and type-ahead search. Now you can just enter your desired location and QuickFacts does the rest. And it’s not just functionality that’s new — for the first time, QuickFacts includes profiles for townships, as well as locations in Puerto Rico.
These features are just the latest in the Census Bureau’s digital transformation effort, developing new tools using the latest technologies. We’ve made major upgrades to Census.gov so that our almost 50 million annual visitors can more easily find the information they want. We also created an application programming interface (API), three mobile apps and several interactive data tools.
Written by: John H. Thompson
As you might have seen on Twitter, on Tuesday I took a tour of the call center at U.S. Census Bureau headquarters — and even answered a few calls myself. The call center — in addition to our facilities in Jeffersonville, Ind.; Tucson, Ariz.; and Hagerstown, Md. — is one of our agency’s major hubs for answering and tracking questions and concerns from the American public. In a world of instant communication, our customers expect an immediate response to their questions. Our call center staff is here to give real-time answers over the phone, online chat and email.
So, what kind of questions does the call center get? Many questions are about our censuses or surveys — in fact, our centers in Jeffersonville, Tucson and Hagerstown are dedicated to communicating with survey respondents. Often, people have never heard of the census or survey that has just arrived at their home or business. I talked to one respondent to the American Community Survey, who wanted to make sure the survey wasn’t a scam. I was happy to reassure her that it was legitimate and important — her responses will provide data that federal, state and local leaders use to plan for things like roads, schools and hospitals.
The call center here in Suitland, Md., also answers all kinds of data questions. County and local officials call to ask about their municipality’s official population count. Researchers ask for information on a wide range of topics, from income to housing to international trade. During my visit, I saw one call center employee answer a chat question about how to appropriately cite information from Census.gov.
In addition to helping callers, the call center also helps the Census Bureau by reporting on the questions and data requests they receive. By listening to callers’ feedback, we can make improvements to our mailed materials and website to help the public find the information they need quickly and easily.
The Census Bureau spends a lot of time reaching out to the public to encourage them to fill out our censuses and surveys, and to ensure they trust that we will protect the information that they provide. When someone contacts us, a call center employee is often the first and only Census Bureau employee they interact with— and I’m proud of the good impression that our employees make. No matter what your question for the Census Bureau is, our call center staff are standing by and ready to answer it.
Census Bureau Headquarters in Suitland, Md. 1-800-923-8282 Monday – Friday: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET Email and chat at https://ask.census.gov Monday – Friday: 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET
If you have been contacted about a survey or census and want to verify that the person who called you is a Census Bureau employee, have a question about a survey form you received, or need to return a call about one of our surveys, please call one of the centers listed below.
Hagerstown, Md. Telephone Center 1-800-392-6975 Monday – Friday: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. ET Saturday: 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. ET Sunday: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. ET
Jeffersonville, Ind. Telephone Center 1-800-523-3205 Monday – Saturday: 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. ET Sunday: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. ET
Tucson, Ariz. Telephone Center 1-800-642-0469 Monday – Friday: 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. MT Saturday: 7 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. MT Sunday: 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. MT
Written by: John H. Thompson
Today is World AIDS Day, an annual opportunity for people around the world to unite against HIV/AIDS, to support those who are living with HIV and to commemorate those who have died. The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) estimates that in 2013, 35 million people worldwide lived with HIV, and there were about 1.5 million AIDS-related deaths.
Tracking and compiling data are important elements in understanding and combatting the spread of HIV and AIDS. The Census Bureau has tracked key data relating to HIV and AIDS for many years. In 1987, we created the HIV/AIDS Surveillance Data Base in collaboration with the U.S. Agency for International Development, and it continues to be supported with funding from the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.
Today, the Data Base contains over 164,000 records from more than 14,900 sources, with more added every year. It is a major compilation of HIV prevalence and incidence data. In fact, the Data Base is the most comprehensive resource of its kind in the world, and includes records for all countries and areas with a population of at least 5,000, with the exception of North America (including the United States) and U.S. territories. These records help identify patterns in the spread of infection, which can assist decision-makers, academics and healthcare professionals who conduct research to help end the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
Researchers at the Census Bureau also use data to assess the impact of increased mortality due to HIV. Using pregnant women’s HIV infection rates, they can estimate and project the prevalence of HIV infection and mortality rates at a national level. Census Bureau population estimates and projections that incorporate the effect of HIV/AIDS are now available for more than 50 countries.
Information about the HIV/AIDS epidemic and impacts on population is critical for decision-makers in developing countries, program planners and the international development community. I am proud of the Census Bureau’s history of collecting, analyzing and publishing data that can help in efforts to diminish the spread of this disease.
By John H. Thompson
When you think of the U.S. Census Bureau, you probably think of surveys and statistics. But did you know that geography is also a big part of our work? Geography plays an important role in creating surveys and collecting data, and it provides meaning and context for our statistics. The Census Bureau conducts research on geographic and address topics, makes reference maps to support censuses and surveys, and creates tools to visualize geographic and statistical data.
The Census Bureau’s history of mapping population data dates back to the 1860s. Under the direction of Census Superintendent Francis Amasa Walker and Chief Geographer Henry Gannett, the Bureau produced the Statistical Atlas of the United States, a landmark publication that contained innovative data visualization and mapping techniques.
A century later, the Census Bureau was a leader in the early development of computer mapping. In the 1970s, James Corbett of the Statistical Research Division devised a system of map topology that assured correct geographic relationships. His system provided a mathematical base for most future Geographic Information Systems (GIS) work and helped spark the development of computer cartography.
However, at that time, the Census Bureau still relied heavily on paper maps. Census Bureau geographers and cartographers used some computer-scanned mapping files, covering about 280 metropolitan areas, to create paper maps for enumerators to use. For the rest of the nation, paper maps came from a variety of sources, varied in quality and scale, and were quickly outdated.
Finally, in preparation for the 1990 Census, the Census Bureau, in collaboration with the U.S. Geological Survey, developed the first nationwide digital map of the U.S., Puerto Rico and other territories called the Topologically Integrated Geographic Encoding and Referencing (TIGER) database. As a national digital map, TIGER contains all of the geographic features — such as roads, railroads, rivers, and legal and statistical geographic boundaries — that are necessary to support the Census Bureau’s data collection and dissemination programs. I was a Census Bureau employee when TIGER debuted, and I still remember the excitement surrounding it. It was hugely innovative and represented an exciting step forward in the way we collect data.
Over the past 25 years, TIGER has evolved into a dynamic mapping system that helped catapult the growth of the GIS industry and improve Census Bureau data products. Today, TIGER is updated annually and available for free download. It provides the nation with a valuable set of geographic information that anyone can use — including businesses, government, nongovernmental organizations and the public. Every state and local government has the capability to create its own GIS with our small-area census data.
The Census Bureau’s history is one of innovation. From the Hollerith tabulating machine to the use of UNIVAC I and the development of TIGER, we have made significant technological advancements — and we will keep on doing so. As the 2020 Census approaches, we are continuing to improve TIGER each year in order to deliver the most timely and reliable statistics.
Happy anniversary, TIGER!
The Economics and Statistics Administration (ESA) plays three key roles within the Department of Commerce (DOC). ESA provides timely economic analysis, disseminates national economic indicators, and oversees the U.S. Census Bureau (Census) and the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA). In this latter role, ESA works closely with the leadership at BEA and Census on high priority management, budget, employment, and risk management issues, integrating the work of these agencies with the priorities and requirements of the Department of Commerce and other government entities.