Looking Forward, Looking Back

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Written by: Director Robert Groves

I have had the honor of directing the Census Bureau since July of 2009.  As was reported today, I was offered the provost position at Georgetown University and have accepted it, with a start date of late August, 2012.

Many things have happened since July 2009.  The wonderful 2010 Census team defied all the naysayers to complete a successful census on time and $1.9 billion under budget.  We reorganized the Bureau, re-establishing a research directorate and then, in partnership with NSF, launched an 8-node research network at universities across the country.  We put in place a risk management group to help us oversee large investments.  The demographic programs’ and field directorates worked with the sponsors of surveys conducted by the Census Bureau to identify key improvements we could make.  They’re reducing the number of Bureau regional offices from 12 to 6; they’re improving the supervisory structure of field interviewers; they’re mounting a more efficient matrix organization for survey management teams.  The economic directorate is doing a top-to-bottom priority-setting effort, enhancing generalized processing systems.  All the directorates have cooperated in launching a generalized system for the collection, processing, editing, and estimation of survey, internet, and administrative data.  This will achieve a new level of efficiency, linking together the semi-autonomous directorates with shared tools.

On the administrative front, the HR group has launched a corporate hiring process, which moves new hires across the Bureau, building their cross-directorate skills; just recently, they announced a current-staff rotation plan, which has similar goals.  We’re in the middle of a large retirement incentive program, with hundreds of folks taking advantage of the offer.

The new IT leadership has significantly reduced our IT operations costs by consolidation and integration.  They’ve launched an internal social media tool that will improve internal communication/collaboration; they’ve built a private cloud to increase computing efficiency; they’re addressing the mix of research and production computing needs; they’ve built a Center for Applied Technology, which is a safe environment to try out high-risk, high-payoff ideas.

We all read in the papers each day some commentary on how Federal employees are unmotivated, unproductive, and wasteful.  I’ve met many who defy that stereotype. They do, however, need leaders who listen to their ideas, leaders who will support them when they trip attempting stretch goals, leaders who believe that government agencies can be as efficient as any other organization.

The current staff at the Census Bureau knows five things: 1) costs of traditional data collection methods are increasing because of changes in US society, 2) the demand for more statistical information is growing, 3) there are new technologies that can help our business, 4) the Federal government can further reduce burden on the public by using data from existing records, and 5) we will not have more money to do our work.  Hence, everything the Census Bureau staff is doing focuses on creating more efficient processes to free up resources to invest in new and better statistics.

This is hard work.  It takes complete commitment to ongoing innovation. It’s not flashy.  Indeed, public service is rarely sexy.  It is, however, noble.  I’ve learned that in a deep way since July 2009 from the behavior of my colleagues at the Census Bureau.

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3 Responses to Looking Forward, Looking Back

  1. Sharon says:

    Best wishes for your new position. Director of Census must be a tough job – but Census Bureau is fantastic for its work all of the time. We Americans would be lost without it.
    I notice you did not mention new American Factfinder2 as a success. No wonder. It is cumbersome and time-consuming compared to “legacy” factfinder. I am a frequent user of census.gov and very data/internet savvy, and will not bore you with criticisms. But new census is a CHORE to work with. What took me 5 minutes to get from “legacy” factfinder now takes me 30 minutes. Before I go to census.gov, I allocate myself about 2 hours to deal with the frustration and that STUPID barber pole showing how long it takes to get my data. Then I must individually download every page of my results instead of one download of all tables which was available in legacy FF.
    But … again, best wishes for your new position.

  2. Karen says:

    I agree with Sharon’s comments the 2000 American FactFinder was much easier to navigate, find data, and explain to local residents how to find demographic material. The new & improved 2010 version is cumbersome for a data search there are too many embedded windows/screens – please consider improving the efficiency of this site so we are not wasting valuable time trying to find data over the next decade.
    Appreciate all the efforts from the Bureau to ensure accuracy with the decennial counts.

  3. Susan Graham says:

    Smart move. Let’s hope the new Director will invite the multiracial community advocacy leadership to the table.

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