Innovation and Modernization in FY 2017

Written by: John H. Thompson

The mission of the U.S. Census Bureau is to serve as the leading source of quality data about the Nation’s people and economy.  To accomplish this mission, we’re continually innovating ways to modernize our data collection methods and disseminating activities for the 21st century.

FY 2017 is a critical year for innovation at the Census Bureau. One of our major priorities is our commitment to cost containment while maintaining data quality. Our plans for the 2020 Census reflect this goal – it will be the most automated, modern, and dynamic decennial census in history, with sweeping design changes in four key areas. We designed the 2020 Census to cost less per housing unit than the 2010 Census (adjusted for inflation), while maintaining the highest standards of accuracy in counting all individuals once, only once, and in the right place.

We’re also working to contain costs by revamping technology that underpins our work. We’re rethinking the way we collect and process data – including expanding our internet and mobile data collection. These advances will consolidate costs, streamline our work, and reduce the burden on individuals and businesses who respond to all our censuses and surveys.

Another major area of innovation is in unlocking the potential of our data. Businesses, policy makers, and the American public rely on our economic statistics to make data-driven decisions, and in FY 2017, we aim to meet their demands for more accurate, timely and granular data. We’ll deliver a full suite of enhanced macroeconomic indicators to drive decisions on investments, economic growth and job creation. By accelerating and enhancing a substantial number of key economic indicators, we can cumulatively lead to a more precise measure of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). In addition, we’re harnessing the potential of “Big Data” to create new data products and expand our existing products to transform how Americans can find, connect, and use these improved economic data.

Finally, we’re thinking outside the box to tackle some long-standing challenges. For example, we’re using aerial imagery to detect areas where addresses have changed in the U.S. – part of the geographic foundation for nearly every economic and social data product that the Census Bureau produces. We’re also researching new ways to balance the nation’s need for detailed social, economic and housing information with the need to minimize the burden of people who respond to our surveys. Innovation in survey design and data collection can help us reduce that burden while still providing communities and businesses with the data they need to make informed choices.

To learn more about how the Census Bureau plans to innovate and modernize to meet that challenge and fulfill our mission, check out the infographic below.


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New Features for My Congressional District Expand Access to U.S. Census Bureau Data

Written by: John H. Thompson

As the nation’s premiere source of data about America’s economy, businesses and people,  we’re committed to making our data more accessible than ever before through new tools and data sets.  We are always listening to you for ways to improve access to our statistics.

In response to customer feedback, I am pleased to announce that latest phase of our digital transformation. For the first time, our County Business Patterns statistics are available by congressional district and to highlight them, we are making them available through a new update of our popular interactive Web app, My Congressional District. Now – in addition to demographic, socioeconomic and housing data – you can access business data at the congressional district level all in one place.

Whether you’re a constituent, working in a congressional office, or just interested in the data, My Congressional District allows you to easily access both economic and demographic data by Congressional district in an easy-to-use app.

In addition to the American Community Survey statistics on demography, socioeconomics, housing and other topics already available through My Congressional District, County Business Patterns provides annual statistics on establishments, employment and payroll for businesses with paid employees at a detailed industry level. These data give users information about the breadth of business activity within a district and its effects.

My Congressional District is one of a suite of Web tools that are accessible through the Census API, and is part of the Census Bureau’s effort to expand access to our data through new tools and technologies. Our digital transformation aims to help our almost 50 million annual visitors more easily find the information they want, expose our audience to new data sets, and increase statistical literacy.

As with all Census Bureau tools, statistics from My Congressional District are easy to download and share on social media. You can also embed the interactive Web app on your own website. Whether you access My Congressional District as an embedded Web app or through, you’ll always get the most up-to-date statistics available.

I hope you enjoy learning more about your congressional district and the communities you care about through our statistics. We’re always looking for ways to make our tools more useful, and I encourage you to submit your feedback through the “Tell us what you think” link. If you like My Congressional District, check out our three mobile apps and other interactive data tools.

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Planning for the 2020 Census

Written by: John H. Thompson

As you know, planning for the 2020 Census is underway. We’re already making key decisions about how the next census will be carried out. Our goal is a complete and accurate census — counting everyone once, only once, and in the right place. We’ve been studying cost-saving design innovations for the last three years; now we’re shifting our focus to operationalizing those innovations and ensuring that they will produce a quality census in 2020.

We are on track to do just that. We’ve already conducted extensive research and testing that makes us confident in our current design plan. From 2012 through 2015, we conducted seven census tests across the country to study a wide range of topics — from race and ethnicity questions to automating field operations to Internet response. The results were critical to informing the decisions in our operational plan.

The Census Bureau released the 2020 Census Operational Plan in October — three years earlier than we did before the 2010 Census. This means we have additional time to refine and test all of the systems and innovations we need for a complete and accurate count in 2020. We’ve already started making the decisions laid out in the operating plan — right as scheduled — and we’ll continue to do so. We have 62 key decisions to make in 2016, including finalizing how we will follow up with people who don’t respond to the census.

Releasing the operational plan five years before the 2020 Census also gives us time to communicate our plans and incorporate feedback from experts, Congress, advisory committees and the public in our decision-making process. One way we’re keeping you informed is by webcasting all of our 2020 Census Program Management Reviews so that you can be aware of what decisions we’re making, how we’re making them, and when we are making them. We want to keep everyone apprised of our progress.

One recommendation we’ve received – and acted on – was from the Government Accountability Office, to examine whether any decisions could be made ahead of schedule to reduce risk. At the last program management review on Jan. 29, we announced a decision about how census takers will collect information via Internet-enabled devices, like smartphones. In our early testing, we examined allowing census takers to “bring your own device” (BYOD) and conduct work using their own smartphone and cellular plans. Based on our research from the 2014 and 2015 tests, we found several challenges that made it clear that BYOD wasn’t the best choice for the 2020 Census. Based on this research, we made an early decision to provide equipment to census takers rather than asking them to use their own.

Planning for the 2020 Census is on schedule and right where it should be. I urge you to follow along with our progress at the 2020 Census page.

2020 Census Program Management Review – January 9, 2015


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Improvements to the Release of Economic Indicators Mean You Get Data Faster

Written by: John H. Thompson

Every month, the Census Bureau releases key indicators of America’s economy. These indicators are critical to the analysis of the nation’s current and future economic performance. Businesses in America, and around the world, rely heavily upon them to make decisions every day.

Today, the Census Bureau announced a significant improvement in the way we release these indicators. We’ve reduced the lag between the indicators’ official release and when they are posted to the web to the smallest it’s ever been. As of today, every person in America will have access to the indicators in as little as one second after their release.

IRIP graphic final

This improvement comes in response to our customers’ requests for more timely access to our data. Because of the indicators’ value, data users such as business owners, researchers, investors, economists and policymakers want access to it as quickly as possible.

Enhancing the accessibility of our data via the web is a key aspect of the Census Bureau’s digital transformation. The new streamlined, automated method allows customers to access economic indicators on more expeditiously and efficiently by optimizing the process required to post economic indicator data to the Internet.

To view today’s release of economic indicators, click here. You can find more economic indicators from the Census Bureau at or by downloading the America’s Economy app.

For more information about the Census Bureau’s digital transformation and the release of economic indicators, please contact the Public Information Office at

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The Year in Review

Written by: John H. Thompson

As the year comes to a close, I want to recognize all of the hard work and notable achievements that have taken place at the U.S. Census Bureau over the past year. As the leading source of statistics on our nation’s people, places and economy, we’re always striving to serve our customers better – whether they are responding to a survey or want data about their community. 2015 was no exception.

This year, we conducted over 130 surveys. We published a wealth of statistics and data, including a major release on income, poverty and health insurance in America. We rolled out several exciting tools to make our data easier to use, such as Census Business Builder: Small Business Edition, a new tool aimed at helping entrepreneurs start businesses. We announced new ways to get our data earlier than before, and made some of our existing data sets available for free.

We added three new Federal Statistical Research Data Centers to our data center network, bringing our total to 22. We continued to produce research that is central to our mission, with over 70 research papers and over 100 presentations at a variety of major scientific forums – including the Joint Statistical Meetings, the Population Association of America, the American Association of Geographers, the American Association of Public Opinion Research and the Allied Social Science Association Meetings. And of course, we continued to map out improvements for future censuses and surveys, including the American Community Survey, the 2017 Economic Census and the 2020 Census. In addition to the excellent, ongoing work that the Census Bureau does, I want to highlight some key achievements from 2015:

  • I’m very proud that we released the operational plan for the 2020 Census, the blueprint for a historic census of “firsts.” The 2020 Census will be the most automated and technologically advanced census ever. Innovations in the operational plan will make it easier than ever for people to respond to the census, and will save taxpayers more than $5 billion compared to doing the census the old way. Through the smart use of technology and information, we can automate our data collection and field operations to make the entire census more efficient and accessible.
  • This year we conducted two successful census tests. In Georgia and South Carolina, we explored new outreach and promotion strategies, and learned more about the best ways for people to complete the census quickly and securely over the Internet. In Maricopa County, Arizona, we evaluated new technologies for collecting and processing responses to the census, and tested a new field management structure. This research is critical to making important design decisions for the 2020 Census. We’ll continue our preparations for the 2020 Census with two more tests in 2016 – in Harris County, Texas and Los Angeles County, California.
  • 2015 marked the anniversary of the American Community Survey, which has now provided U.S. communities with detailed information for 10 years. As the nation’s largest ongoing household survey, the ACS produced statistics annually – down to the block group level – for every community in the nation. In December, we released the latest ACS five-year statistics, which allowed users to compare two non-overlapping, five-year data sets for the first time. Users can now identify trends for social and economic characteristics for even the smallest communities on a more frequent basis.
  • We began collecting data for the first Annual Survey of Entrepreneurs as part of a three-year pilot project in partnership with the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and the Minority Business Development Agency.  This new survey responds to our customers’ requests for more timely data by providing an updated socio-economic portrait of America’s business owners in the years between the Survey of Business Owners. Data from the 2014 Annual Survey of Entrepreneurs – including estimates on firms, receipts, payroll and employment by business owners’ gender, ethnicity, race and veteran status – are tentatively scheduled to be released next summer.
  • Earlier this year we debuted our City Software Development Kit (SDK), a user-friendly “toolbox” for civic hackers to connect local and national public data. Developers asked for an easier way to use the Census API for common tasks, and the SDK is our answer. Currently, we have distributed over 12,030 developer keys. Last month the SDK was named the Federal Government’s 2015 Innovation of the Year by Fed Scoop.
  • In January, 55 Census Bureau employees won Gold and Silver Medal awards from the Secretary of Commerce for distinguished and exceptional service. Throughout the year, employees have continued to win accolades, including the Arthur S. Flemming Award in Applied Science; the Innovation Initiative Excellence Award from AFCEA Bethesda; the Special Achievement in GIS Award from Esri; the Leader of the Year in Enterprise Risk Management from the Association for Federal Enterprise Risk Management; and the Energy and Environmental Stewardship Award from the Department of Commerce.

Thank you to all of the Census Bureau employees whose hard work has paid off so impressively this year. As we look forward to the New Year, 2016 is shaping up to be just as productive. With research and innovation, we’ll continue to provide quality data about America’s people and economy.

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