The 2015 National Content Test Is Now Underway

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Written by: John H. Thompson

This month, 1.2 million households began receiving the questionnaire for the 2015 National Content Test. For those who receive the test, your participation in this important milestone on the road to the 2020 Census will help us determine the best questions for you to respond to in the next census. September 1 marks Census Day for the test.

The National Content Test has two main objectives. First, we want to evaluate and compare different versions of questions to ask in the 2020 Census, such as those about race and origin, relationships, and the best questions for determining where people should be counted as of Census Day.

Second, during the National Content Test, the U.S. Census Bureau will try different strategies for encouraging households to respond to the census on their own. We will test nine different approaches to encourage households to respond via the Internet – the least costly and most efficient response option.

The Census Bureau has sent National Content Test questionnaires to a statistically representative sample of households in the United States and Puerto Rico. For each household, we ask how many people live in the house, and each person’s name, sex, age, relationship, and race and ethnic origin. We ask whether the housing unit is owned or rented. Finally, we ask for the respondent’s telephone number and email address. Because studying the effectiveness of different content is part of the test, different households will receive different versions of question wording.

If you receive a form, please perform your civic duty and complete it. You will help inform our decisions as we design the 2020 Census. Your participation will also help us to identify additional topics for 2020 Census testing later this decade. As always, the information we collect is subject to strict privacy and confidentiality laws, and we go to great lengths to protect your data. The National Content Test is part of our ongoing testing activities to research innovative methods for reducing the cost of the 2020 Census, while still maintaining a high-quality census. It will help us develop a census that is cost-effective, improves coverage, and reduces operational risk.

The 2015 National Content Test is scheduled to run through November 2015. You can learn more by visiting our FAQ page.

Posted in 2020 Census | 131 Comments

New Advance Report on International Trade Available Today

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Written by: John H. Thompson

Today, the U.S. Census Bureau released the first-ever Advance Report: U.S. International Trade in Goods. The Department of Commerce is “America’s Data Agency,” and this report is part of our ongoing efforts to release U.S. trade data to the public as quickly as possible. The Advance Report of U.S. trade data will be published up to a week before the full FT-900: U.S. International Trade in Goods and Services that is jointly issued by the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA).

Many American businesses, policymakers and other data users rely on the Census Bureau’s international trade statistics to make data-driven decisions. These data are crucial to understanding the U.S. economy with respect to our trading partners and the impact of events around the globe. Now, data users will have earlier access to our statistics with this high-level “snapshot.”

Even better, the Advance Report of U.S. trade data allows the federal statistical community to produce more reliable initial estimates of quarterly Gross Domestic Product (GDP). BEA will use the Advance Report of U.S. trade data when preparing its advance estimate of quarterly GDP, which measures the value of goods and services produced in the U.S. economy and is one of the most comprehensive and most closely watched economic statistic. Getting this initial estimate accurate, with small subsequent revisions, is critical to the Federal Reserve, businesses and policymakers around the world.  The new Advance Report of U.S. trade data should reduce the size of revisions to this major economic indicator.

The Advance Report of U.S. trade data is just the latest example of the Census Bureau’s commitment to releasing the timeliest, accurate, and trusted information about our nation’s people and economy. We are constantly looking for ways to improve your access to our statistics.  I’m pleased that this collaboration with BEA will support the needs of taxpayers and our data customers for better, faster measures of the U.S. economy.

Click here to access our first Advance Report. You can also click here to access BEA’s first GDP report incorporating data from the Advance Report, which is their advance estimate of second-quarter GDP.


Posted in Economy, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Update on the Census Bureau’s IT Security Incident

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Written by: John H. Thompson

Earlier this week, the Census Bureau experienced an attack to gain access to the Federal Audit Clearinghouse, which is housed on an externally facing IT system that contains non-confidential information, such as names of the person submitting the information, organization addresses and phone numbers, site user names, etc.  While our IT forensics investigation continues, I want to assure you that at this time every indication is that the breach was limited to this database, and that it did not include personally identifiable information provided by people responding to our censuses and surveys.

It appears the database was compromised through a configuration setting that allowed the attacker to gain access to the four files posted to the hacker’s site.  The hackers acquired the data illegally, but as I indicated above, the Clearinghouse site does not store any confidential household or business data collected by the Census Bureau.  That information remains safe, secure and on an internal network segmented apart from the external site and the affected database.  Over the last three days, we have seen no indication that there was any access to internal systems.

The Federal Audit Clearinghouse is used to collect single audit reporting packages from state and local governments, non-profit organizations, and Indian tribes expending Federal awards.  The federal awarding agencies use the single audit reports to ensure program compliance.  We were in the process of making additional Clearinghouse information available via the Internet next year.  Within 90 minutes of learning of the breach, we made the system inaccessible.  It will remain offline until we can complete our thorough investigation and take steps to ensure the systems integrity in the future.

However, in light of this breach, we are increasing our efforts to ensure the security of our site.

We continuously scan our systems to look for vulnerabilities.  The Census Bureau follows every possible precaution and uses the latest IT security standards to make sure our systems remain secure.  In addition, the Department of Homeland Security also runs scans regularly.

Through our surveys and censuses, American taxpayers and businesses entrust the U.S. Census Bureau with their information to produce statistics about our population and economy. The information we collect helps the nation make informed decisions, from transportation projects to social services to businesses and job creation.  As you know, we do not take this trust lightly and have a good record of keeping confidential information safe.

The IT security office is continuing its investigation, and they will further strengthen our security systems based on what they learn.  I assure you that we will continue to safeguard the information and data of both the public and our employees.  Your trust is paramount to our mission.

Updated information (Last updated Sept. 24, 2015):

The following survey sites are temporarily offline for maintenance and testing because of our ongoing IT security investigation:

  • Federal Audit Clearinghouse (Due dates between 7/22 – 10/30/2015 are extended to 10/31/2015)
    • Contact: 1-800-253-0696 /
  • Survey of Sexual Victimization (Two week extension to respond)
    • Contact: 301-763-2586 /
  • Public Libraries Survey
  • Annual Survey of State Government Finances
    • Contact: 301-763-5149 /
    • Contact: 301-763-5635 / for details on submitting your data through a secure FTP site
  • North Carolina State Treasurer: Annual Financial Information Report (AFIR) – 2015
    • Contact: 301-763-5149 /
  • Maryland State Data Collections – FY 2015 Uniform Financial Reports (UFR)
    • Contact: 301-763-5149 / if you require a copy of the blank FY 2015 County or Municipal UFR form.  Completed FY 2015 UFR forms can be submitted to the same email address.

Please see our statement for more information:

Census Bureau Statement on IT Security Incident

July 22, 2015 – The U.S. Census Bureau is investigating an IT security incident relating to unauthorized access to non-confidential information on an external system that is not part of the Census Bureau internal network.  Access to the external system has been restricted while our IT forensics team investigates.

Security and data stewardship are integral to the Census Bureau mission.  We will remain vigilant in continuing to take every necessary precaution to protect all information.

If you have any questions or concerns about how the Census Bureau protects your data, I encourage you to contact our Respondent Advocates, Dave Waddington and Nishea Quash, at Dave and Nishea can explain the many policies and procedures that the Census Bureau uses to ensure America’s data is safe and secure.


Posted in About the Agency | Leave a comment

Transparency, Participation and Collaboration at the U.S. Census Bureau

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Written by: John H. Thompson

The Census Bureau, as well as the rest of the Department of Commerce, is an enthusiastic proponent of open government. Since the first census in 1790, a key part of our mission has been to collect and distribute data and statistics about American people, places and economy. Our data help governments, businesses and individuals make better-informed decisions, and we’re keen for it to provide value to as many people as possible.

As part of Sunshine Week 2015, we highlighted the ways we continue to embrace the principles of transparency, participation and collaboration. Census Bureau employees, other federal agencies and the public shared many great ideas and initiatives – from new digital tools that make our data useful to new audiences to webcasting our advisory committee meetings and updates about our plans for the 2020 Census.

Of course, a big topic in our discussion about open government was the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Celebrating its 50th birthday next year, FOIA gives individuals and organizations the right to access federal agencies’ records (with a few exceptions, such as some personnel information). Did you know that you can submit a FOIA request to any agency, asking for access to records on any topic?

To ask for materials from the Census Bureau under FOIA, you can submit a written request, or use FOIAonline or email to submit a request electronically. The Census Bureau has a step-by-step FAQ to help guide you through the process. You can see the range of FOIA requests that the Census Bureau gets by generating a report in FOIAonline.  Additionally, you can search for FOIA requests, appeals, and previously released records stored across multiple agencies, in a central repository on FOIAonline.

The public expects and deserves to have access to even more information and data, and the Census Bureau is always seeking ways to be even more accessible, and to involve the public in our data and decision-making processes. I encourage you to visit for a wealth of agency information, statistics and data tools – including our FOIA Library of frequently requested documents.

Posted in About the Agency | 3 Comments

Calling All American Community Survey Data Users

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Written by: John H. Thompson

Right now, the U.S. Census Bureau is conducting a survey to gather user feedback on American Community Survey data products. The American Community Survey is an indispensable resource that provides data about who we are and how our population is changing. We want to ensure the American Community Survey program continues to produce relevant, timely and accessible data products that the public needs.

The American Community Survey provides vital information about the American population. It is the only source of quality information about the people in all of our nation’s communities, including information on age, children, veterans, income, employment, education and so on. Not surprisingly, governments, businesses, researchers and advocates extensively use American Community Survey data to make better decisions to make our country stronger.

Most of the statistics you see about the people in our communities either come directly from the American Community Survey or are derived in part from it. There is no substitute for the American Community Survey, and the Census Bureau is committed to making it as meaningful as possible to data users and the communities they serve.

If you’re among the many users of American Community Survey data, we want to hear from you. We’re looking for feedback on the content of data products and usage of geographic areas, the coinciding documentation that’s currently provided on our website, and data product access and dissemination. 

To take the ACS Data Products Survey, please visit our website by May 29, 2015. It should take no longer than 15 minutes to complete.

For more information about the American Community Survey program, you can also sign up to receive email updates, become a member of the American Community Survey Data Users Online Community, or register to attend the second annual American Community Survey Data Users Conference on May 11-13, 2015.

Posted in About the Agency, Measuring America | 3 Comments