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 10/21/15):

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 – 12/30/2015 are extended to 12/31/2015)
    • Contact: 1-800-253-0696 / erd.fac@census.gov
  • Survey of Sexual Victimization (Two week extension to respond)
    • Contact: 301-763-2586 / greta.b.clark@census.gov
  • Public Libraries Survey
  • Annual Survey of State Government Finances
    • Contact: 301-763-5149 / stephen.d.owens@census.gov
    • Contact: 301-763-5635 / cheryl.h.lee@census.gov 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 / stephen.d.owens@census.gov
  • Maryland State Data Collections – FY 2015 Uniform Financial Reports (UFR)
    • Contact: 301-763-5149 / stephen.d.owens@census.gov 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 respondent-advocate@census.gov. Dave and Nishea can explain the many policies and procedures that the Census Bureau uses to ensure America’s data is safe and secure.


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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 census.efoia@census.gov 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 www.census.gov 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

Happy Census Day!

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Written by:  John H. Thompson

Today, April 1, marks Census Day for the Savannah, Georgia and Maricopa County, Arizona areas, sites where two important test censuses are underway.

During the decennial census every 10 years, Census Day provides the reference day for measuring the population. We’re using the same reference day for the 2015 Census Tests in the Savannah and Maricopa County areas.

If you live in one of our 2015 test sites, I encourage you to learn more about the tests by visiting www.census.gov/2015censustests. Your participation is appreciated and will help us make critical design decisions that will shape how the rest of America participates in the next census in 2020. Mandated by the Constitution, the decennial census counts the residents of the United States once a decade. It determines the number of seats each state has in the U.S House of Representatives, and how over $400 billion in federal funds are distributed to state, tribal, and local communities each year.  The census is a huge undertaking, and the cost has increased significantly each decade.  Our design changes will help us hold the cost down in 2020.


We are conducting these tests five years before the actual Census Day on April 1, 2020, to learn how to leverage new technologies and apply innovative methods to census operations in a real-world census environment. Our goal is a more efficient and cost-effective census that continues to produce high quality data.

We are testing different things at each site. In the 20 counties in Georgia and South Carolina that are part of the Savannah area test, we are exploring new outreach and promotion strategies to inform the public about the census.  We are also learning the best ways to allow residents to complete the questionnaire quickly and securely over the Internet.

In Maricopa County, we are evaluating new technologies for collecting and processing responses to the census. We also will be testing a new field management structure to see if it improves the efficiency and effectiveness of operations to interview households that don’t complete their census test questionnaire during the self-response phase.

The timing of these tests is critical as we must make important design decisions later this year. By 2018, we must lock in operating systems and methods for the 2020 Census. These tests, and those planned for 2016 and 2017, will give us the information we need to build our systems and develop the processes we will use to implement the largest peacetime operation conducted in the United States.

The 2020 Census will be unlike any other in history thanks to the tests we are conducting now. The new methods that we are researching will result in savings estimated to be approximately $5 billion from the projected cost of using methods from the 2010 Census.

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2015 Census Test Starts Today in the Savannah, Ga. Area

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Written by:  John H. Thompson, Director, U.S. Census Bureau and Mark Doms, Under Secretary for Economic Affairs, U.S. Department of Commerce

The 2015 Census Test in the Savannah, Ga. area starts today! If you live in one of the 20 counties in Georgia and South Carolina that are participating in the test, we encourage you to visit www.census.gov/2015 to complete the census test form online.


This morning, we were at Savannah Technical College to kick off the 2015 Census Test. Lisa Blumerman, Associate Director for Decennial Census Programs, and Savannah Mayor Edna Jackson joined us for a news conference and meetings with community influencers. We explained how the Census Bureau is using the test to encourage residents to respond to the census online. Because of its population density, demographic diversity and the mixed rates of Internet access, the Savannah area is a great place for us to test digital outreach methods for different population groups.


The Census Bureau is relying on residents, local governments, faith-based and community organizations, schools, media, businesses and others to help this effort succeed. This afternoon, Under Secretary Doms visited America’s Second Harvest of Coastal Georgia to help prepare emergency meal boxes for area residents who are at risk of hunger. Volunteers helped us insert flyers into the boxes with information about the 2015 Census Test and instructions for completing it online. Later, in a visit to the Port of Savannah, Under Secretary Doms talked about how the Census Bureau is the official source for the nation’s export and import statistics, and is responsible for issuing regulations governing the reporting of all export shipments from the United States.


Director Thompson stopped by a school in Jasper County, S.C. to talk to students and administrators about how an accurate census count can help their community receive funding for education – as well as roads, hospitals, job training centers and a host of other services. The director also spoke to residents of Sun City Hilton Head, a retirement community in Bluffton, S.C., about how responding to the census test online is secure and easy for everyone.


The strategies we’re testing in Georgia and South Carolina encourage residents to complete the questionnaire quickly and securely over the Internet with a computer, tablet or smartphone. The 2015 Census Test in the Savannah area will pave the way for a reengineered and more cost-effective 2020 Census. Research leading up to 2020 could result in saving up to $5 billion from the projected cost of conducting the head count using methods from previous censuses.

For photos of our trip, follow the Census Bureau on Instagram.

Posted in 2020 Census | 10 Comments