Preparing for the 2020 Census: Observing In-Office Address Canvassing

Written by John H. Thompson

Today I visited the National Processing Center, the U.S. Census Bureau’s large-scale data processing center in Jeffersonville, Indiana, to observe its role in preparing for the 2020 Census. The National Processing Center collects and processes data for more than 150 demographic and economic surveys, including the decennial census. It also houses some of the Census Bureau’s geographic operations, which play a critical role in providing the framework for survey design, sample selection, data collection, tabulation and dissemination for the 2020 Census.


An accurate address list is the cornerstone of a high-quality census. As we prepare for 2020, one of the four key areas of innovation we’re pursuing is re-engineering the way we build our address list. In the past, census workers would build the list by walking every street in America. Today while preparing for 2020, we are using technology and new information sources to update our address list through a process known as “in-office address canvassing.”

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In-office address canvassing starts with clerks updating the 2010 Census address list based on new information from the U.S. Postal Service and tribal, state, and local governments, as well as commercially-available data. Then, they use satellite imagery and use geographic information systems to identify areas where substantial address changes are occurring. This review process gives us a handle on what housing changes have occurred since the last census, how well the Census Bureau’s address list is keeping up with the changes, and how likely changes are to occur in the future. In areas with rapid change or where we can’t verify addresses from the National Processing Center (about 25 percent of addresses), we’ll conduct in-field canvassing.

National Processing Center staff began working on in-office address canvassing in 2015, and they’ll continue all the way through 2020. Address canvassing is an indispensable part of a complete and accurate census that counts everyone in America once, only once, and in the right place. By using more in-office procedures to cut down on in-field canvassing, we can potentially save $900 million, compared to the cost of updating our address lists the old way.

For more information about how we’ll re-engineer our address canvassing process for the 2020 Census, check out the Detailed Operational Plan for the Address Canvassing Operation. To learn more about the National Processing Center, visit <>.

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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 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

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