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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FY 2016 Is a Critical Year for the Reengineered 2020 Census

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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.

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Transforming Data Collection and Processing Infographic

 

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Using Technology and Innovation to Reengineer Our Surveys and Data

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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.

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