Updating Congress on Preparations for 2020: Tune in Tomorrow

Written by: John H. Thompson

Tomorrow morning, I’ll address the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on the U.S. Census Bureau’s preparations for the 2020 Census. For the last three years we’ve been studying cost-saving design innovations; now, we’re shifting our focus to operationalizing the design and ensuring it will produce a quality census in 2020. I’m excited to share the progress we’ve made with the Committee.

Plans for the 2020 Census are right where they should be. We’ve already started making the decisions laid out in the 2020 Census Operational Plan – just as scheduled – and we will continue to do so. For example, we recently announced a major decision to use a commercial off-the-shelf platform for data collection in the Census Enterprise Data Collection and Processing (CEDCaP) program for the 2020 Census and beyond. Under the guidance of our new Chief Information Officer, research, testing, and IT system development will remain on track for the planned end-to-end systems integration test in 2018.

For more information about what I’ll discuss at the hearing, click here. To watch my remarks live, tune in to the Oversight and Government Reform Committee video feed tomorrow, June 9, 2016 at 9 a.m.

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Preparing for Hurricane Season with Census Data

Today marks the beginning of the Atlantic hurricane season. These storms are among nature’s most powerful and destructive phenomena, and they have the potential to affect a large portion of U.S. residents. The 185 coastline counties along the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico – areas that are most threatened by Atlantic hurricanes – have a combined population of 59.2 million.

Emergency management officials can access statistics about communities in storms’ paths through the U.S. Census Bureau’s OnTheMap for Emergency Management tool. It’s a web-based resource that provides a live view of selected emergencies and weather events in the U.S., 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It automatically incorporates real-time updates from federal sources so you can view the potential effects of hurricanes (and other disasters) on America’s population and workforce. The Census Bureau and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – both within the Department of Commerce – have worked together to bring you this real-time data.


OnTheMap for Emergency Management uses rich, local socioeconomic and demographic statistics from the American Community Survey and other Census Bureau data sources to give a detailed look at affected areas. It gives you information on the number of people potentially affected by a storm, as well as some of their characteristics down to the neighborhood level – for example, what percentage of residents are 65 or older, or what local employment patterns look like. The Census Bureau provides vital economic and demographic data to federal and local emergency management agencies, which can use this information to better assess hurricanes’ impact on coastal populations. For example, following Super Storm Sandy, New Jersey officials used our data to estimate the volume of traffic in affected areas.

The Atlantic hurricane season lasts from June 1 through November 30. If you live in a hurricane-prone area, you can find safety and preparedness tips at www.ready.gov/hurricanes. You can also visit the National Hurricane Center for the latest tropical storm forecasts and follow the National Weather Service for active weather alerts.

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Preparing for the 2020 Census: Choosing Data Collection and Processing Systems

Written by John H. Thompson

Today, the U.S. Census Bureau announced a major decision on the path to the 2020 Census. Since December 2014, we’ve been assessing whether to use commercial software products to collect and process data in the 2020 Census, or whether to build our own systems. After a great deal of evaluation and discussion, we have determined that a hybrid approach – combining a commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) system with specific solutions developed by Census experts – will best meet our needs.

During this same period, our in-house innovation and development teams have been hard at work developing prototypes that we could test during the 2020 Census field tests. These prototypes delivered key digital data collection system capabilities for data collection.  This testing has been a critical part of the development process, allowing us to better understand how we could reengineer our business processes to save money during the 2020 Census.  The work of the teams helped us develop and refine our requirements, and to make a well-informed evaluation of the COTS products.

Based on our final requirements and an analysis of the development and testing results – and with input from experts at Carnegie Mellon University, and the National Academy of Sciences – we decided on an integrated COTS platform that can supply functional solutions as well as allow us to incorporate some of the innovations that we have developed in-house. This approach meets our data collection and processing goals for the 2020 Census, and builds the infrastructure to support all of our censuses and surveys in the future.

Refining the systems we use for data collection and processing is a critical component of our proposal to save $5.2 billion in the 2020 Census, compared to repeating the 2010 Census design. The timing of this decision was critical to meet the schedules and timelines that are key to preparing for the 2018 End-to-End Test, which will test the integration of all major operations and systems.

To learn more about how we made this decision for the agency, click here. For more information about how we’re preparing for the next census, check out the 2020 Decision Memo and our 2020 Census Operational Plan.

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Technology Innovations for Nonresponse Follow-Up in the 2020 Census

Written by: John H. Thompson

This week I am visiting Los Angeles County to observe the last phase of the 2016 Census Test, currently underway here in California as well as in Harris County, Texas. Almost 225,000 households in Los Angeles County received a notification from the U.S. Census Bureau by mail 9 weeks ago asking them to complete the 2016 Census Test questionnaire online. Now, census takers are engaged in what we call “nonresponse follow-up” — that is, personally visiting households that did not respond to the census.

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       Director Thompson looks at the 2016 Census Test questionnaire online in Chinese.

Using technology to refine our nonresponse follow-op operations is a critical part of our preparations for the 2020 Census. The testing that’s underway in California and Texas will help us hone the innovative, cost-saving procedures outlined in the 2020 Census Operational Plan.

In the current phase of the 2016 Census Test, we’re refining the technologies and methods that we use to assign cases to field staff conducting nonresponse follow-up visits. In 2020, we plan to automate much of the door-to-door field work involved in this operation and better manage census takers’ workloads and routing in real time.

U.S. Census Bureau - Los Angeles Test Site Documentation in the field throughout Greater Los Angeles, California on March 10, 2010. Shoot ID: 160310US-LA -- Photo by Lee Roth

A census taker visits a household for nonresponse follow-up in Los Angeles County, Calif.

We’re also continuing to refine our innovative use of mobile technology in our follow-up efforts. We’re replacing paper and pencil with mobile devices for census takers who visit nonresponding households. These devices have special software that census takers will use to securely collect households’ information and transmit that data, daily assignments, updates and timesheets.

Finally, we’re continuing our research into how to best use existing government and commercial information to reduce the nonresponse follow-up workload. For example, we’re exploring how to use records to identify vacant units that we don’t need to visit. We’re also working on ways we can use this information to reduce the number of  visits census takers make to nonresponding households, and to count those households if they don’t respond after multiple visits.

Through the smart use of technology and innovations like these, we can save up to $5.2 billion, compared to repeating the design of the 2010 Census. Thank you to the residents of Los Angeles County and Harris County for participating in this critical census test. Your cooperation is critical to helping us design a complete and accurate census in 2020, one that will give America the data it needs to make good policies and decisions for its growing population.

You can track the results of the 2016 Census Test and our plans for the 2020 Census at www.census.gov/2020census

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Surveying U.S. Census Bureau Commuting Data in Atlanta

Written by: John H. Thompson

Today, I am in Atlanta for a roundtable discussion with local officials on commuting data, and discussing how they can use the Census Bureau’s wealth of statistics to serve their communities.

The Atlanta area is a great case study of some of the many ways that commuting data can be used by policy makers and residents. For starters, our data show that the mean travel time of Atlanta-area commuters is among the highest of American metro areas, at 31 minutes. Our data also indicate how residents get to work – whether by car, bike, public transportation or on foot. Atlantans rely heavily on their cars, with 76.3 percent of workers commuting by automobile.

Commuting data can also tell Atlanta leaders about how residents use other modes of transportation, such as the MARTA bus and rail line, the Downtown Loop streetcar line that opened in 2014, and the multi-use BeltLine trail that’s currently under development. Our statistics can show changes in how people use these alternative travel methods over time.

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Armed with Census Bureau data on commuting, local officials can see how, when, and where their residents are commuting. This enables them to make evidence-based decisions on transportation on behalf of their constituents. For example, they can examine the relationship between transportation systems and development patterns in their area; implement policies to address traffic congestion; and use forecasting to predict commuting behavior.

But officials aren’t the only people who can use our data. Residents and advocacy groups can use them to petition for new or expanded roads, bus lines, bike lanes, and sidewalks. Entrepreneurs and economic development agencies can better understand the link between travel and business patterns. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (coincidentally, based in Atlanta) uses commuting data to track community design and its effect on environmental public health. The potential uses are endless.

Census Bureau commuting statistics come from the American Community Survey, the largest household survey in the U.S. Along with data on commuting patterns, the American Community Survey provides statistics on housing, employment, education and many other topics – and it’s the basis for the distribution of more than $400 billion in federal funds. Transportation strategy is just one way that communities use American Community Survey statistics to plan for investments and services.

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Director Thompson and Doug Hooker, Atlanta Regional Commission executive director, discuss how Census Bureau data can be used to inform decisions on the city’s commuting and transportation needs.

If you’re interested in learning more about commuting patterns in your community, check out Census Explorer: Commuting Edition to see data by state, county and neighborhood. For special reports on commuting, visit the Census Bureau’s commuting web page.

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