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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On the Road in New Mexico

Written by: John H. Thompson

Earlier this month I visited New Mexico to participate in the Census Bureau’s fifth tribal consultation meeting this year. These meetings are a key part of our preparations for the 2020 Census, and I’m grateful to the All Pueblo Council of Governors and the Pueblo of Isleta for hosting and to the attendees who contributed to a thoughtful and productive discussion.

New Mexico is a remarkable state, and I enjoyed meeting its people and learning more about the challenges of counting those who live in rural areas. Here are some photos from my visit to Albuquerque, parts of the Navajo Nation including the To’hajiilee Indian Reservation, Laguna Pueblo and Acoma Pueblo.

For more information about the topics of discussion at the Census Bureau’s meetings with tribes, check out my blog posts on the tribal consultation process and on my trip to Alaska in October. There are more pictures of my trip on Facebook and Instagram.

In the Navajo Nation, I learned about challenges associated with census interviews in Indian Country. I also visited the monument to the Navajo Code Talkers in Window Rock.

3 - Canyon de Chelly

The Canyon de Chelly was a great place to learn about the challenges of enumerating hard-to-count populations. In 2020, our mission will be to count every American in the right place – including those living on the canyon floor.

The landscape of the Laguna Pueblo illustrates some of the challenges of rural enumeration. The pueblo includes the six villages of Encinal, Laguna, Mesita, Paguate, Paraje and Seama, whose combined total population was 3,815 persons in the 2000 Census.

The landscape of the Laguna Pueblo illustrates some of the challenges of rural enumeration. The pueblo includes the six villages of Encinal, Laguna, Mesita, Paguate, Paraje and Seama, whose combined total population was 3,815 persons in the 2000 Census.

I met with Data Dissemination Specialist Amadeo Shije and Field Supervisor Mark Zyniecki to talk about enumeration in Indian Country.

I met with Data Dissemination Specialist Amadeo Shije and Field Supervisor Mark Zyniecki to talk about enumeration in Indian Country.

I met with the Governor of the Pueblo of Acoma, Fred S. Vallo, Sr.

I met with the Governor of the Pueblo of Acoma, Fred S. Vallo, Sr.

This beautiful rock formation is on the Acoma Pueblo. According to the 2010 Census, 4,989 people identified as Acoma.

This beautiful rock formation is on the Acoma Pueblo. According to the 2010 Census, 4,989 people identified as Acoma.

I met with the New Mexico state offices of Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, Rep. Stevan Pierce, Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, Senator Martin Heinrich, and Sen. Tom Udall to discuss the tribal consultation process and the operating plan for the 2020 Census.

I met with the New Mexico state offices of Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, Rep. Stevan Pierce, Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, Senator Martin Heinrich, and Sen. Tom Udall to discuss the tribal consultation process and the operating plan for the 2020 Census.


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Releasing the 2020 Census Operational Plan to Congress and Our Valued Stakeholders

Written by: John H. Thompson

On November 3, I presented the Census Bureau’s operational plan for the 2020 Census – the blueprint by which we’ll conduct the next census – to Congress and the public. I was excited to tell the House Subcommittees on Government Operations and Information Technology about the depth and strength of our plan. Today, I want to go over some of the highlights from my testimony about the operational plan and our preparations for the 2020 Census.

In 2013, in response to funding constraints, we prioritized the 2020 Census research program. At that point we established the end of Fiscal Year 2015 as a key milestone for releasing the operational plan for the 2020 Census. I was pleased to inform the Subcommittees that we had met that goal, and that our plan is supported by solid research, including the 2014 and 2015 tests.

I was proud to report that in 2020 we will no longer use the paper-and-pencil processes that have characterized each census since 1970. The operational plan lays out four key areas of innovation that will ultimately deliver $5.2 billion in savings to the American taxpayers. The 2020 Census will be the most automated census ever, and we’re developing technologies and systems that will increase the efficiency of administering the once-a-decade headcount. We’re taking full advantage of the opportunity to innovate and using off-the-shelf technological advances from the last 10 years.

The operational plan details our research on the infrastructure that we need to take the census online. Through testing and development, we’ve developed prototype systems that incorporate mobile technology and optimal work assignments. A key component of these efforts is the Census Enterprise Data Collection and Processing (CEDCaP) initiative, a new agency-wide approach to survey and census data collection and processing. We’re simplifying and integrating – moving to a small suite of shared, reusable systems instead of creating duplicative systems for each survey and census. This new, sustainable approach will enable us to conduct a modernized 2020 Census.

I also told the Subcommittees about our plans to manage the risks associated with delivering the most automated census ever, including:

  • Delivering the 2020 operational plan three years earlier than in the 2010 census cycle. Releasing our plans now gives us additional time to communicate our plans and decision making process to Congress and other stakeholders.
  • Making innovative use of existing technology and software. -to-date tools – instead of inventing our own – we can make the best use of technological advances for an accurate and cost-effective census.
  • Developed a working prototype for the census that we successfully tested in 2015. Based on this prototype, we’ve drawn up most of the census’ specifications; we’ll finish this work based on the results of tests in 2016 and 2017.
  • Establishing milestones for an end-to-end test of our systems. In 2018, we’ll hold a critical test of all of the census’ major systems. This end-to-end test will represent the culmination of research and testing, as we implement the planned census operations in real-time.
  • Minimizing risk by making timely decisions. The operational plan shares a number of decisions that we’ve already made in preparation for the 2018 end-to-end test, and lays out a timeline for the remaining decisions that we must make.
  • Recognizing the need for timely decisions on which systems we need to build internally, and which we need to buy from external sources. We’ve engaged the Carnegie Mellon Software Engineering Institute to guide us in this area and to ensure that this critical decision making process is successful.

Based on my experience in overseeing the 2000 Census and in the private sector, I am confident that the plan outlined above will lead to a successful implementation of our automation and systems development for 2020. Right now, we are on schedule to deliver a census in 2020 that is both innovative and cost effective – but we’re also at a critical juncture. In order to execute a 2020 Census that reduces costs while maintaining quality, we must receive adequate funding for the entire lifecycle. By investing now, we can save more than $5 billion while ensuring we produce an accurate and cost-effective Census.

I must emphasize again how pleased I was to have the opportunity to update our oversight subcommittees in the House of Representatives, and to tell them that we’re on schedule to deliver a 2020 Census that is that is both innovative and cost effective. By taking a proactive approach in researching and testing modern, groundbreaking methods, we can make the 2020 Census the most cost-effective and automated Census ever.

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World Statistics Day 2015: Better Data. Better Lives.

Written by: John H. Thompson

The United Nations General Assembly designated October 20, 2015 as the second-ever World Statistics Day to highlight the many achievements of national statistical systems across the globe. The U.S. government has a long history of collecting data about the nation’s people, places and economy – beginning with the first census in 1790. Today, the Census Bureau and other federal statistical agencies publish the statistics the nation uses to record progress and plan for the future.

In the United States, quality, timely, accessible data is the foundation of good decision-making. Policy makers at every level of government, businesses of all sizes, and individuals across America all depend on statistics to make informed decisions. That’s why the Census Bureau is committed to continually improving our data sources and statistical methods – to enable better decisions that ultimately result in better lives for all of us.WSD_Logo_Final_Languages_Outline

One of the key ways that the Census Bureau meets that commitment is through the innovative use of technology. The advent of modern computing and the Internet have revolutionized the way we collect, process and share data, and we’re making smart use of technology to make future censuses and surveys more efficient. More than 60 of our censuses and surveys now have an online response option, and in 2017, the Economic Census will move to 100% electronic data collection. In 2020, the decennial census is making the leap from pencil and paper to the Internet. Among the many innovations that will be deployed for the 2020 Census, we’re making it easier and more convenient than ever to complete the census by adding an option for online response. We’re also giving mobile devices with special software to census takers – allowing them securely transmit daily assignments, real-time updates, timesheets, and even calculate the best route for that day’s workload.

Innovation and digital technology also let us share our statistics more widely and easily than ever. We’ve made major upgrades to to make Census Bureau statistics as accessible as possible to our more than 40 million annual visitors. We’ve created mobile apps and interactive digital tools to expand access to our statistics – most recently we released Census Business Builder: Small Business Edition to help entrepreneurs get access to statistics that can help them start or grow a business. Our API and the City Software Development Kit give developers and entrepreneurs access to our statistics in a format that makes it easy to mash up and consume.

The possible ways to use all of these readily available statistics are endless. Companies like Zillow and Target are able to understand more about the communities and consumers they serve; government agencies can better simulate the spread of infections diseases and prepare for the next potential outbreak; and educators can change the way their students think about math, numbers and life.

Today I encourage you to learn more about the ways that official statistics help people around the world develop informed policies that improve lives. Visit to learn more about how the national statistical systems in Indonesia, Germany, New Zealand and many other countries are meeting the challenge of Better Data. Better Lives. Happy World Statistics Day!

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On the Road in Alaska

Written by: John H. Thompson

Last week I wrote about the series of tribal consultation meetings that the U.S. Census Bureau is holding across the country. These consultations are one aspect of our preparations for the 2020 Census, just like our release of the operational plan last week. This week I am in Anchorage, Alaska to attend the second of the eight consultations, in conjunction with the annual convention of the Alaska Federation of Natives.

This meeting is especially significant because the Remote Alaska enumeration is the first activity that will kick off the 2020 Census. Between January and April 2020, Census enumerators will visit the most sparsely settled, isolated parts of Alaska – areas that are accessible only by small plane, boat, snowmobile, four-wheel drive vehicles, or dog sled. This enumeration starts early in the year in order to reach the people in these remote locations before the spring thaw, when travel to these areas may be even more difficult.

It’s been a fascinating trip. I’ve enjoyed visiting Alaska, meeting new people, listening to the thoughtful discussions at the tribal consultation – and even seeing local artwork by Alaska Native and Native American artists. I’m so grateful to the people of Alaska for their hospitality.


Director Thompson is in Alaska for the second #2020census tribal consultation. This week he also visited the Alaska Dispatch to discuss plans for the 2020 Census and during his visit at the paper, ran into Senator Murkowski.

Lisa Blumerman2

Check out more pictures from the Alaska Native Customary Art Fair. Associate Director Lisa Blumerman and Director Thompson are in town for the #2020Census tribal consultation. #Alaska #AlaskaNative #Art #AmericanIndian


Director Thompson is in Alaska for the second #2020census tribal consultation. While there he visited the Alaska Native Customary Art Fair. #Alaska #Art #AmericanIndian #AlaskaNative

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