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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.