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The Census Bureau's Director writes on how we measure America's people, places and economy.
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When UNIVAC I was installed at the Census Bureau in 1951, computer operations were housed in the basement and wings of the agency's Federal Office Building 3 in Suitland, MD. Additional computing space was added later to a satellite facility in Charlotte, NC. As technology changed and the power, network, and security needs of the agency increased, the World War II-era (flood-prone) headquarters and satellite space grew increasingly obsolete.
In cooperation with the General Services Administration, officials from the Census Bureau, the city of Bowie, MD, and the University of Maryland (which donated the land), broke ground for a state-of-the-art facility in Bowie, MD, on September 11, 1995.
Upon completion of the facility in 1997, the U.S. Census Bureau's computer operations moved to the Bowie Computer Center. The state-of-the-art facility offers 110,724 square feet of space, of which 90 percent houses computer equipment, at the Maryland Science and Technology Center. Not only is the facility home to the Census Bureau's computer infastructure, but it also houses one of the largest supercomputers in the nation, currently used by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for weather forecasting.
The Bowie Computer Center's operations are safeguarded against power interruptions. Battery backup is available during minor power outages and generators are used for extended periods. In addition, the facility is under continuous maintenance. Around the clock, 365 days a year, technicians working in the operations center monitor the Census Bureau's computers to ensure that the servers, network connections, and Census Bureau Web site are available 24 hours a day.
The computer center was designed with energy efficiency in mind. Innovative features include programmable lighting, reflective glazing to reduce cooling requirements, modular wiring for work stations, variable frequency drives on mechanical systems, and alternative refrigerant in the building's chillers. These and other innovations earned the Bowie Computer Center a Federal Design Achievement Award for its commitment to technology and an open and efficient work environment and an Industry Award for Best Practices for Enterprise Management Systems.
Today, the Bowie Computer Center continues to play a critical role in maintaining the U.S. Census Bureau's computers, networks, and servers. The center's goal is to remain the unnoticed backbone of the agency's census, survey, and Web site operations. In 2003, then Customer Services Division Chief, Ken Riccini noted, "You're not supposed to know we're here. When we handle disruptions without anyone noticing, that means we're doing our job."