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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U.S. Census Bureau Seeks Input from Tribal Leaders for 2020 Census

Written by: John H. Thompson

Today, Census Bureau officials are meeting with representatives from the Midwest Alliance of Sovereign Tribes in Minnesota to discuss issues that affect American Indian and Alaska Native communities (AIAN) ahead of the 2020 Census. This is a critical part of our overall communication and outreach efforts directed at ensuring an accurate, cost-effective population count in 2020. I’m excited to collaborate with tribal leaders, and eager to hear their thoughts on how we can better serve their communities.

This is the first of eight tribal consultation meetings, plus a national webinar that all federally recognized tribes will be invited to attend, that the Census Bureau will hold across the country over the next six months. Through these meetings, we hope to meet with representatives from as many of the more than 500 federally recognized tribes as possible. Building awareness about the importance of the 2020 Census is essential in motivating response to the census in communities across our diverse nation, including the AIAN population living both on and off tribal lands. It’s also our responsibility as a government agency, following an Executive Order signed in 2000, that we hold meaningful and accountable consultations with tribes on matters that have significant tribal implications.

Our past collaborations with tribal governments and American Indian organizations have been very productive; I know that AIAN outreach and partnerships can have a big impact from my time overseeing the 2000 Census. We also had great success working with the National Congress of American Indians on the Indian Country Counts campaign during the 2010 Census.

Today’s meeting is the first of many times that we’ll be reaching out to and communicating with the AIAN community ahead of the 2020 Census. We’re keen to build on our government-to-government relationship to receive feedback. Through collaboration, we can make progress in a way that meets the community’s needs, and helps the Census Bureau listen to and use the AIAN population’s input to increase the response rate and accuracy in Indian country. We also want to get information from tribal leaders on topics like outreach and promotion, data collection operations, geography and others.

I’m excited to attend the next tribal consultation on October 14 in Anchorage, Alaska – stay tuned for an update from me about that meeting. I’m confident that by working together, we can make progress in a way that meets the community’s needs, and helps the Census Bureau capture the best possible information about the American Indian and Alaska Native population.

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The 2020 Census: The Most Innovative Census in our Nation’s History

Written by: John H. Thompson

Today is a big day in the U.S. Census Bureau’s planning for the 2020 Census – we are unveiling the operational plan for the most innovative and automated census in our nation’s history.

The census occurs every 10 years and is the largest civilian mobilization effort the nation undertakes. It is the very foundation of our democracy and a constitutional requirement. In 2020, we’ll have just a few short months to count what we estimate will be more than 320 million people in this country – counting them only once, and in the right place. It’s a complicated logistical challenge, and we only have one shot at getting it right.

We’re releasing this plan five years prior to the 2020 Census – three years earlier than we released the 2010 plan a decade ago. This lets us thoroughly test each innovation and refine the plan with those results.

Sweeping innovations in the 2020 Census Operational Plan will make it easier than ever for people to respond, and will save taxpayers more than $5 billion compared to doing the census the old way with pencil and paper. In 2020, the census is making the leap to the Internet. The smart use of technology and information will make the 2020 Census more efficient and accessible.

The most sweeping changes for the 2020 Census focus on these four key innovation areas:

  1. Making it easier for people to respond. We’ll encourage the population to respond to the 2020 Census using the Internet, reducing the need for more expensive data capture. This will save an estimated $400 million.
  2. Using existing data to reduce door-to-door visits. We will use data that the public has already provided to the government and data that is available from commercial sources. The savings from this innovation – estimated at $1.4 billion – will allow us to focus additional visits in areas that have been traditionally hard-to-enumerate.
  3. Automating field operations. We’ll use sophisticated operational control systems to send Census enumerators to follow up with non-responding housing units and to track daily progress, saving an estimated $2.5 billion.
  4. Building a more accurate address list. We are adding new addresses to the Census Bureau’s address frame using geographic information systems and aerial imagery, instead of sending Census employees to walk and physically check 11 million census blocks. This will cut our on-the-ground workload 75%, saving an estimated $900 million.

As always, your confidentiality and privacy are important to us. That’s why the plan spells out how we will thoroughly test every component of census operations, piece-by-piece and as a whole.  We’re working with some of the best minds in industry to ensure the success of the census, borrowing best practices from global companies. We’ll use layers of information security protections and protocol to secure the systems we use and the data we collect. All data will be encrypted and safeguarded, and all staff are trained to protect it and sworn to maintain confidentiality, under penalty of imprisonment or fines.

In closing, this will be a historic census, a census of “firsts.” The first that most of us will respond to online. The first to use aerial imagery to verify that our list of addresses for the nation is correct and up-to-date. The first that automates follow-up work for those that do not respond to the census – optimizing assignments, letting census takers know right away which households have already responded, and sending them GPS-based, turn-by-turn directions to follow up with households that have not.

The automations and innovations that we’ll use are truly groundbreaking for collecting statistics, and everyone here at the Census Bureau is excited to roll out these plans for the American public.

To learn more about the 2020 Census operational plan, tune in to our webcast event today at 1pm ET.

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