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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is the primary purpose of the Office of the Small Business Ombudsman?

The primary purpose of the Small Business Ombudsman is to assist small businesses with their day-to-day interactions with the Census Bureau. The Ombudsman also serves to advocate positions directed at reducing small business reporting burden, facilitating reporting, improving data access, and recognizing changes in small businesses themselves that impact on their ability to report. Unfortunately, the Ombudsman cannot remove you from a mandatory survey, since your response is required by law under Title 13 of the United States Code.

Do I have to respond to a mandatory survey?

YOUR RESPONSE IS REQUIRED BY LAW. Title 13, United States Code, requires businesses and other organizations that receive this questionnaire to answer the questions and return the report to the U.S. Census Bureau. By the same law, YOUR CENSUS REPORT IS CONFIDENTIAL. It may be seen only by persons sworn to uphold the confidentiality of Census Bureau information and may be used only for statistical purposes. Further, copies retained in respondents are immune from legal process.

Why are some Census Bureau surveys mandatory while others are voluntary?

Congress has determined that, in limited cases, the information the Census Bureau collects is so important to public policy that individuals do not have the option to decline to participate. Such an approach ensures the highest possible quality. Even when the data are collected on a mandatory basis, the Census Bureau informs respondents about the purpose of the collection. Nevertheless, all data that the Census Bureau collects whether mandatory or voluntary are treated the same — they are protected from disclosure and are used only for statistical purposes.

Are all of the personal data that are collected by the Census Bureau confidential?

Yes. All of the information that the U.S. Census Bureau collects under Title 13, United States Code (U.S.C.), Section 9 is confidential. Person or household data protected by this law are kept confidential for 72 years; business data remain confidential for 30 years. After that time, the information may be made available to the public. When the Census Bureau collects data for other agencies under their legal authorities, those data belong to the sponsoring agencies and are subject to the Confidential Information Protection and Statistical Efficiency Act (CIPSEA) [PDF, 48KB] as well as specific agency confidentiality laws.

What law protects my information?

Title 13, a federal law, provides strong confidentiality protections for individual and business information collected by the Census Bureau. If the Census Bureau collects your information for another agency, CIPSEA and either Title 13 or the sponsoring agency's confidentiality law covers the data collection.

Does the Census Bureau disclose census data to other agencies?

Title 13 strictly prohibits disclosing Title 13-protected information to any other federal, state, or local agency or any foreign government. This also means that a court cannot subpoena that information, nor is it subject to the Freedom of Information Act or the Patriot Act. Title 13 is an airtight law that applies even to the White House, Internal Revenue Service, Department of Homeland Security, Federal Bureau of Investigation, police, military, and welfare agencies.

What happens if a census employee/contractor releases confidential information?

It is against the law to publish or disclose any data that identifies an individual or company – no names, no addresses, no Social Security numbers. Violating the law is a federal crime with serious penalties, including a prison sentence of up to five years and a $250,000 fine.

What steps does the Census Bureau undertake to ensure that confidential data are secure?

The Census Bureau takes its commitment to confidentiality very seriously. It constantly pursues new procedures, technologies, and methodologies to safeguard individual data. Every person with access to person or business data - from the director on down - is sworn by Title 13 to protect confidentiality and is subject to criminal penalties if they do not. Tight computer security and strict access and handling procedures are followed.

Are all of the personal data that are collected by the Census Bureau confidential?

Yes. All of the information that the U.S. Census Bureau collects under Title 13 , United States Code (U.S.C.), Section 9 is confidential. Person or household data protected by this law are kept confidential for 72 years; business data remain confidential for 30 years. After that time, the information may be made available to the public.

Where can I ask questions or make comments about Census programs, questionnaires (forms) or compliance issues?

Questions and comments can be submitted through the internet at census.ombudsman@census.gov. Please include your email address and telephone number with your correspondence. All questions and comments will be addressed in a timely manner. If you have immediate concerns, you may call the toll free direct line at: (866) 564-5431.

For more FAQs visit the Question and Answer Center.

For more information on our forms visit the Economic Programs Index to Questionnaires by Form Number website.


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Source: U.S. Census Bureau | Small Business Ombudsman's Office | (866) 564-5431 | census.ombudsman@census.gov | Last Revised: December 02, 2010