Census Bureau Budget Update

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Written by: Tom Mesenbourg

On March 26, 2013, the President signed the FY 2013 budget bill.  The Census Bureau’s FY 2013 enacted discretionary budget is $858 million, $112 million or 11 percent below the President’s request of $970 million.  The enacted budget reflected specific cuts to selected periodic programs as well as across the board sequestration and rescission reductions to each of the Census Bureau’s fifteen program budgets. The Department of Commerce submitted individual bureau spend plans to the Congress in May and the spend plans were finalized on June 13, 2013.  This blog describes the impact of the FY 2013 enacted budget.

The Census Bureau is committed to transforming the way we do business. This year we halved the number of Regional Offices from twelve to six; changed the way we manage and conduct our reimbursable surveys; significantly expanded internet data collection for both the American Community Survey and the 2012 Economic Census; cut administrative costs; and began transforming the way we process surveys and censuses through the use of adaptive design and shared services.  While these initiatives helped address some of the budget shortfall, additional actions were required to operate at the lower funding levels.

Strategically, our goal was to minimize the impact on our employees, seeking to avoid furloughs, while sustaining our core mission and preserving our most important programs within the limited flexibility provided.  In order to minimize program terminations, we have cancelled, reduced the scope of, or not awarded over $30 million in contracts originally planned for the second half of this fiscal year.  These contract reductions, of course, will have programmatic impacts.  Additionally, we have imposed a hiring freeze for all but the most mission critical positions.  We will not fill over 100 critical vacancies, we have reassigned 26 employees to other work, and we terminated the appointments of 41 temporary employees at the National Processing Center who were working on the Economic Census.  In addition, we have reduced training, travel, and other discretionary spending.

In terms of major programs, the impacts of reduced funding levels are described below.

Economic Programs:  In March, the Census Bureau suspended all work on the 2012 Survey of Business Owners (SBO) in anticipation of reduced Economic Census funding.  This survey, conducted every five years, is the only source of information on women, minority, and veteran-owned businesses and small business entrepreneurial activity.  In order to initiate SBO data collection this fiscal year, the Census Bureau is reprogramming $2.25 million from the 2010 Census to the Economic Census.

Reductions to the 2012 Economic Census staffing levels, both in the National Processing Center and at Census headquarters, may cause up to a six-month delay in the delivery of over 1,600 Economic Census products, which ultimately support the accuracy of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).  The Census Bureau has suspended all work on the 2012 Information, Communication, and Technology Survey, which is an important source of business investment data used for economic forecasting.

2020 Decennial Census Programs:  Planning for a Decennial Census is a decade-long endeavor, based on planning and research.  The substantial cuts to the 2020 Census threaten the Census Bureau’s ability to deliver the preliminary design options for the 2020 Census in FY 2015, as scheduled.  At the reduced funding level, we cannot carry out the planned research and testing plan needed to inform the design options.  The reduced FY 2013 funding level also has forced us to delay field tests and preparatory work related to FY 2014 field tests, which pushes back the evidence needed to make design decisions in FY 2015. Delays in research related to more cost-effective census methods could result in higher census costs later in the decade.

Geographic Support Program:  Reductions to the Geographic Support program will delay important research related to the Master Address File, likely delaying decisions about the viability of cost-saving designs associated with the 2020 Census address canvassing operation, scheduled for later in the decade.

American Community Survey:  Cuts to the American Community Survey (ACS) eliminate much needed investments in the ACS processing infrastructure, program management, and research program.  These reductions undermine the ACS’s ability to serve as a test bed for the 2020 Census and will likely delay planned ACS content and instrument research and testing.

Demographic Programs:  Cuts to these programs prevent the implementation of new supplemental poverty measures.  These new measures would have supplemented the official measures of poverty with annual measures from the CPS Annual Social and Economic Supplement that more accurately measure economic deprivation.  These cuts will also delay data releases for the 2014 panel for the Survey of Income and Program Participation.

2010 Census:  In order to provide funding for the 2012 Survey of Business Owners, the Census Bureau requested and the Congress approved the reprogramming of $2.25 million from the 2010 Census.  The loss of this funding will delay, or possibly cancel, the release of the 2010 Census Public Use Microdata Sample (PUMS) file.  The staff working on the 2010 PUMS file have been reassigned to work on the 2020 Census program.

The actions described above permit us to operate at the lower funding levels for FY 2013.  However, these reductions are not sustainable in the future.  The Census Bureau needs full funding – and needs it early in FY 2014, in order to avoid terminating additional programs and causing major disruptions to the 2020 Census Research and Testing Program.

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Why Respondents Matter

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Written by: Tom Mesenbourg

The Census Bureau has a long and distinguished history as “Fact Finder for the Nation.”  Besides the Decennial Census, the Economic Census, and the Census of Governments, the Census Bureau conducts a number of monthly, quarterly, and annual surveys of households, institutions, and businesses that provide critical information about our nation’s economy, people, and institutions. The American Community Survey, the replacement for the decennial “long form,” is a national information asset, providing detailed information about the socioeconomic and housing characteristics of some 700,000 communities. Free markets and our democratic form of government depend on factual information that is relevant, credible, impartial, and trusted and the Census Bureau takes great pride in the fact that our statistics have long served as the cornerstone of the nation’s statistical information infrastructure.

Census Bureau statistics are widely disseminated and are available at no cost to nearly a million weekly visitors to Census.gov and through our mobile app, America’s Economy.  However, the Census Bureau recognizes that our statistical programs do impose a cost on the businesses and households we survey – the time that it takes them to complete and file their forms. We do not take this reporting burden lightly.  We have made it easier to report by providing online response capabilities for 61 surveys; we make extensive use of statistical sampling to reduce the number of households contacted; and, in the case of our business surveys, we use federal administrative records data in lieu of direct collection to reduce the burden on small businesses, while lowering the cost of data collection. Even in the years when we collect Economic Census information (years ending in “2” and “7”), less than 25 percent of our nation’s business locations receive a business report form, and in non-Economic Census years, less than 3 percent of business locations are surveyed.

During the nine years of the decade when we do not do a population census, less than 4 percent of all the households in the United States receive  a household survey conducted by the Census Bureau. While the American Community Survey is the largest household survey conducted by the federal government, households that invest the 40 minutes or less it takes to complete the survey probably will not be contacted again by the ACS program during the rest of the decade, unless they move. The cooperation of these households permits the Census Bureau to provide businesses, consumers, local governments, policymakers, and the general public with relevant, credible, and consistent information they need to make informed decisions. The Census Bureau has some of the highest participation rates in the survey business because the Census Bureau is trusted; respondents know we will protect and safeguard the information they provide and that we only release summary statistics, further protecting the individual identity of any survey respondent.  Nonetheless, not every household responds to our initial survey contact. To ensure complete and representative coverage, our skilled and well-trained telephone and field interviewers will contact households that have not responded, often multiple times, to obtain the requested information.  We understand that some respondents may not understand the value of the information that we are requesting or may believe that the Census Bureau staff is too persistent in attempting to elicit a survey response. We respect these views and believe we must do a better job identifying and responding to respondent concerns.

In April 2013, I appointed Tim Olson as the Census Bureau’s first Respondent Advocate for Household Surveys. Tim’s job is a new one and a challenging one – to be the “voice” of our most valued resource – our survey respondents. Tim spent nearly 20 years working in the Field Directorate, which oversees the collection of information by our three telephone centers and our six regional offices, who employ nearly 7,000 field interviewers. Tim also played an important role directing our 2010 Census partnership program that included some 257,000 different organizations across the nation. The 2010 Census partnership program, through local organizations and trusted voices, helped convince reluctant segments of the population to participate in the 2010 Census.

Tim’s experience and personality make him uniquely qualified to represent household survey respondents, articulating their concerns and advocating on their behalf. In this role, he will work directly with respondents, telephone center staff, field interviewers, and congressional offices to identify respondent concerns and issues, develop metrics to categorize and track their concerns, and work with Census Bureau program offices to address them. Tim will also advocate for the respondent during multiple phases of the survey lifecycle, including questionnaire design, preparation of respondent communications and engagement materials, mode selection, and follow-up strategies. This is a challenging but very important position. I know that Tim will be an effective spokesperson for household respondents, and I am confident that he will help make the Census Bureau more aware and more sensitive to the concerns of our household respondents. While the Census Bureau continues to receive unprecedented support and cooperation from the American people, achieving a 97 percent response rate for the American Community Survey, we can and must do better. By voicing survey respondent concerns throughout the Census Bureau, highlighting their perspective with those designing surveys and collecting data, we can be more respectful of survey respondents while continuing to deliver the quality data our nation needs to grow and prosper.

If you are a household respondent and have concerns or suggestions about how we can do better, please contact Tim at timothy.p.olson@census.gov. Not only is he a nice guy, he is also a great listener and knows how to get things done on your behalf.

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Know the Population, Every Minute, Every Day

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Written by: Tom Mesenbourg

New Population Clock Now Embeddable and Shareable

Every 14 seconds, the U.S. Census Bureau’s population clock ticks upward. If you have ever wondered how many people are in the United States or the world, you need not look further than our website, census.gov.

While we have long provided these estimates, today our population clock got a refresh. New features now enable you to explore the richness of these data as well as download the information and share the clock via social media or embed it on your website.

Screenshot of new population clock

The population clock has consistently been one of the most visited sites on census.gov and the data are made available thanks to the hard work of our Population Division staff. We hope you enjoy the new features and enhancements of the population clock. Its release coincides with the beginning of the Population Association of America’s annual meeting in New Orleans.

What makes the clock tick? The U.S. population clock is based on a series of short-term projections for the resident population of the United States. The clock shows you the components of population change, which are one birth every eight seconds, one death every 12 seconds and one international migrant every 44 seconds this month. These components result in our estimate of the U.S. population at any given moment.

Screenshot of pop clock showing April 1, 2010 populationIf you are interested in learning what the population was on a particular date over the past three years, you can look that up, too. For example, you can see the 2010 Census population on April 1, 2010, was 308,745,538. You can look up every day since then, allowing you to learn the population on your birthday last year or at the time of other significant U.S. and world events.

Not only can you view the current estimated U.S. population, you can also see the world population clock and learn the populations of the 10 most populous countries as well as where the U.S. ranks among them. China, which ranks first on the list, will have a July 1, 2013, population of 1,349,585,838. The data for this tool are drawn from the International Data Base (IDB), which offers additional demographic information for each country.

Are you curious about a particular area of the United States? You can also explore how the U.S. population has changed by region since 2000 with an interactive graphic showing the growth or decline of the Northeast, Midwest, West and South. Another interactive feature is the animated U.S. population pyramid, which shows the percentage of men and women for every year of age up to 100 from 2000 to 2011.

The new population clock is embeddable, allowing you to put it on your website. You can also share it on popular social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. As we join the statistical community in recognizing the International Year of Statistics in 2013, our new population clock shows how these statistics touch all of us. The clock is also just one example of how we are continuing our digital transformation to make our statistics more accessible for everyone.

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How Do You Access our Statistics?

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Written by: Acting Director Tom Mesenbourg

Last summer, we launched our first application programming interface (also known as an API), and this week we have made it even more useful. Now three decades worth of statistics about America’s people, their characteristics, and the communities where they live are available in the API, making it easier for developers to create Web and mobile apps fueled with Census Bureau statistics.

In addition to 2010 Census data and American Community Survey five-year estimates, the API now contains census data from 1990 and 2000.  Providing API access to more of our statistical and publicly available data sets is just one way we are changing how we do business in line with the Digital Government Strategy and open data initiatives.

If you wonder what an API can do, you can find an example right on Census.gov. One of our newest data access tools, Easy Stats, uses the Census Bureau’s API to provide you with fast access to data tables from the American Community Survey and is just one example of a tool developers can create.  Using the API, developers were able to include estimates for the new congressional districts for the 113th Congress in our latest version of Easy Stats, faster than if we had programmed the tables.

If you are a developer and have an idea for how to make Census Bureau data even more useful, you can create your own tool, like Easy Stats. We look forward to seeing what you create. In the coming year, we will be adding more data sets to the API based on your feedback.

Of course, not everyone is a developer, and we are committed to making Census Bureau statistics more accessible and easier to use. We also are adding new tools that make it easier to not only access our data sets but also to share, embed and download them.

If you are relatively new to Census Bureau data, you may want to start with a tool like QuickFacts or Easy Stats. Both tools provide access to popular information about a variety of U.S. geographies.

For those who want access to Census Bureau statistics on the go, you need not look farther than your Apple or Android device. Our first mobile app, America’s Economy, gives you timely updates from 16 key economic indicators, such as employment, manufacturing and retail sales.

While Easy Stats and America’s Economy are relatively new, we are also making improvements to data access tools you may already know. We recently released new features for American FactFinder, providing users from novice to advanced with options for finding statistics.

These are just a few of the data access tools we have available on Census.gov. Your feedback helps continue to improve these tools, giving you access to a variety of facts about our nation’s people, places and economy.

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2012 Economic Census data collection has begun!

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Written By: Acting Director Tom Mesenbourg

Since my last update, 2012 Economic Census operations are now under way. By now, nearly 4 million economic census forms will have landed on the desks of businesses across the country.

Economic census forms are sent to a little over 4 million of the 7 million business locations with paid employees in the U.S., as well as to businesses in Puerto Rico, Northern Marianas, American Samoa, Guam, and the Virgin Islands. These business locations have received report forms tailored to their particular industry, making filing easier than ever.

The information collected in the economic census is critical to measuring the health of the U.S. economy. We recognize that reporting this information imposes a burden on the business community, but we have taken steps to minimize the burden and facilitate reporting. Businesses with four or fewer paid employees will have information collected from a small sample, excusing almost 3 million small locations from having to file. However, if your small business received an economic census report form, it is important that you complete and return it because your response represents 10 other small businesses.

Businesses with multiple locations will receive a form for each location, mailed generally to company headquarters. It is important that you return each completed form so we can publish detailed industry statistics for small geographic areas, such as towns, cities, and places.

Economic census forms are due Feb. 12, 2013. If you respond to the economic census by the due date, you will avoid being mailed a replacement form or receiving a follow-up phone call. This saves you, the taxpayer, money and permits us to get the 2012 Economic Census results out earlier.

Responding to the economic census is easier than ever, as businesses of all sizes are now able to report electronically. Businesses with only one location can report directly through an online questionnaire. Those with more than one location can use downloadable software with a spreadsheet-style option and use it to return their data by uploading a file to a secure Census Bureau website. Check out www.econhelp.census.gov to learn how to file your form electronically.

For detailed information about the value of the economic census, visit business.census.gov. The site includes video testimonials from business owners, government officials and other key individuals. It also provides examples of how economic census statistics are used.

So if you receive an economic census report form, go online, complete it, and submit it. Your response makes a difference!

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