Transparency, Participation and Collaboration at the U.S. Census Bureau

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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 census.efoia@census.gov 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.

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Calling All American Community Survey Data Users

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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.

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Happy Census Day!

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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.

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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.

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2015 Census Test Starts Today in the Savannah, Ga. Area

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Counting People in the Right Places: Boundaries Matter

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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 and townships.  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 geo.bas@census.gov.  Materials for the 2015 survey  and FAQs are also available online at www.census.gov/geo/partnerships/bas.html.

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