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FAQs - ACS Content Review

What is the American Community Survey Content Review?

The American Community Survey (ACS) content review is a process to ensure that the critical topics and questions federal agencies need on the survey have strong justifications in order to produce the highest quality data with the least burden to the public. The 2014 ACS Content Review is independent of previous reviews conducted by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Census Bureau.

Why is this review taking place now?

Previous formal efforts to solicit feedback from federal agencies regarding the justifications for questions they sponsor on the ACS have not provided the level of detailed information needed to demonstrate why an agency's questions should be included. Also, there is mounting evidence from respondents themselves or from their congressional representatives that a few of the survey questions are viewed as too sensitive, intrusive, or require too much effort to provide a response. These factors, combined with concerns of Congress and the Department of Commerce (DOC) about the issue of respondent burden, have led to a need to review the justifications for ACS questions in more detail.

How and when will this review will be implemented?

Letters were sent in March 2014 to each of 22 core federal statistical agencies that sponsor American Community Survey (ACS) questions explaining the ACS content review and why federal agencies need to participate. That marked the formal start of the review, which will continue through the spring and is planned to end by late 2014.

How will federal agencies and the Census Bureau work together to complete this content review?

Once each federal agency identified a point of contact in response to the letter from the Department of Commerce (DOC), the Census Bureau followed up with them to explain the goals of the content review and to offer assistance. The point of contact will help coordinate the work of the individual organizational units within the agency to provide input needed to complete the review. As needed, at the invitation of the federal agency, the Census Bureau may send its subject matter experts to meet with an agency to offer assistance. The Census Bureau has also established an extranet site for the electronic exchange of reference materials and documentation between federal agencies and the Census Bureau. The DOC has also offered the assistance of its legal counsel to review federal agency documentation provided as part of this review.

What other activities will take place as part of proposed content review?

A kick-off meeting in the main auditorium of the Department of Commerce (DOC) took place on April 29, 2014 to communicate in person with federal agency representatives about the content review. In addition, the Census Bureau has developed a robust methodology for reviewing American Community Survey (ACS) content. The methodology weighs cognitive burden against the benefits of a question to the number of federal agencies that use the data under statutory, regulatory, and programmatic requirements. Over the coming weeks, concurrent with work of federal agencies to implement the content review, the Census Bureau will be applying these content review criteria to understand more fully various aspects of respondent burden for each ACS question and to supplement the work of federal agencies as part of the content review. A composite score will be calculated for each question. The score will reflect factors such as the utility of the question to federal agencies, the availability of alternative information for the topic represented by the question, and the reluctance of the respondent to provide the information requested by the question. Paradata from the internet data collection and the results of surveys of field representatives who conduct computer assisted personal interviews will supplement other information collected to review each ACS question. The scores of the questions will provide an additional source of information for the federal statistical community to consider as part of the content review.

In addition to federal agencies and their stakeholders, who else is involved in the content review?

We are obtaining input from the Census Bureau's National Advisory Committee on Racial, Ethnic, and Other Populations (NAC). Additionally, any data user has the opportunity to provide input via an online feedback form, which is available on the Census Bureau's ACS website on the Content Review page.

What questions pose the most concern for the Census Bureau? Why isn't the Census Bureau focused on those questions rather than subjecting all the ACS questions to a review using content review criteria?

The Census Bureau has evidence based on letters, e-mail messages, and phone calls that approximately a half dozen American Community Survey (ACS) questions are especially sensitive for respondents. Those questions will be considered a priority for elimination if their inclusion on the ACS cannot be justified as part of the content review, or if plans cannot be developed to test alternative wording for these questions. However, to systematically identify and measure the burden of ACS questions, a more robust methodology will be used that subjects all questions to the same review metrics. These criteria were developed to address the need for a consistent measurement of burden across all ACS questions in the context of the overall benefits of a question to federal agencies.

What is the schedule for providing the information being sought as part of the Content Review? What if my federal agency is not able to meet the deadlines for participating and submitting documentation?

In order for the results of the content review to be reflected in the 2016 American Community Survey (ACS), complete information is needed from each federal agency as soon as possible. The Census Bureau and federal agencies must work together in the coming weeks and months to provide the needed information. A schedule has been established to ensure that benchmark goals of the content review are met in a timely way. The Census Bureau has already met with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to discuss the content review process, and similar contacts with other federal agencies will be scheduled as needed in the months ahead to ensure the content review is completed on schedule. Failure of a federal agency to participate or to provide the documentation requested in a timely way could result in the removal of a question from the ACS.


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Source: U.S. Census Bureau | American Community Survey Office | Email ACS | Last Revised: July 21, 2014
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