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Evidence-Based Decision-Making at the Census Bureau

Evidence-Based Decision-Making at the Census Bureau

It’s the U.S. Census Bureau’s mission to measure America – our people, places, and economy.

The essential information we collect makes it possible for decision makers to understand how our country is changing. It helps the public analyze whether the nation is dedicating the right resources to the right places. And, in a critical way, it gives researchers the tools to determine what works and what needs improvement in our democracy.

The 2018 “Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act” (Public Law 115-435, “Evidence Act”) recognizes the value of evidence for government to run effectively and efficiently.

Learn more about how the Census Bureau supports evidence-building across government through our core mission, and how we measure the effectiveness of our own work.

Implementing the Evidence Act

See how the Census Bureau is implementing the individual components and requirements of the Foundations for Evidence Based Policymaking Act (Evidence Act) within the Census Bureau.

Latest Updates

The Census Bureau and the Department of Commerce entered an agreement to establish the Census Bureau-led Center of Excellence.

The Center of Excellence will provide data services and support to several Commerce agencies for program monitoring, impact assessment, and evaluation. This is critical as these agencies implement large-scale programs authorized by legislation and covering $110 billion, including the American Rescue Plan, Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, Inflation Reduction Act, and CHIPS for America Act.

Examples of support activities include assisting agencies in building measurable metrics into their program design, identifying potential gaps in data to better monitor programs, and providing statistical evidence to support agencies as they conduct evaluations of their programs.

We anticipate early results of this collaboration. To preview a couple of the efforts, the Center of Excellence is:

  • Supporting NOAA to create socio-economic and community-level measures related to community resilience considering weather-related disasters.
  • Working with the Good Jobs Challenge program office under the Economic Development Administration to measure training program outcomes.

If you are interested in learning more about or possibly benefiting from this collaboration, email us at CES.Center.of.Excellence@census.gov.

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The federal statistical agencies have worked together to create a standard application process (SAP) for applying for access to confidential microdata for research with an evidence-building purpose. As of December 8, 2022, applicants can apply on one, consolidated portal at ResearchDataGov.org. Visitors to the portal can browse a catalog of protected data assets from federal statistical agencies and units and submit an application at the same website. The Census Bureau’s Federal Statistical Research Data Center (FSRDC) program is proud to be part of this groundbreaking accomplishment.

Information about applying for access to restricted-use microdata in the FSRDCs using the SAP portal is available on the Census Bureau’s standard application process website. Assistance from an FSRDC administrator will greatly reduce the need for future revisions to your application. To find an FSRDC administrator near you, please go to https://www.census.gov/about/adrm/fsrdc/contact.html. If you are unsure which FSRDC to contact or have a general question, please reach out to the Census Bureau at ced.fsrdc.info@census.gov.

The SAP was developed in response to the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act of 2018 to make data more easily accessible to the appropriate institutions, government entities, and individuals. Applications are limited to projects with an evidence-building purpose. More information about the transition to the SAP can be found on the SAP informational website and within the Frequently Asked Questions.

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The Department of Commerce Data Governance Working Group has delivered its first report: "Best Practices for Monitoring and Evaluating the ARP, IIJA and Other Programs."

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The application process for requesting access to U.S. Census Bureau data is evolving. The Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act of 2018 calls for the Federal government to establish a standard application process (SAP) through which agencies, the Congressional Budget Office, State, local, and Tribal governments, researchers, and other individuals, as appropriate, may apply for access to confidential microdata. In response, the federal statistical system is developing the SAP Portal at www.ResearchDataGov.org. The SAP Portal is a web-based data catalog and common application that will serve as a “front door” to apply for confidential data from any of the 16 principal federal statistical agencies and units for evidence building purposes.

The SAP Portal is being developed in a phased approach. On February 28, 2022, the federal statistical agencies launched the SAP Portal data catalog to provide prospective applicants with comprehensive metadata about federal statistical agencies’ confidential microdata. On November 1, 2022, the SAP Portal will begin accepting applications to access confidential microdata.

Until the SAP Portal common application is available, explore the links below to learn more about the Census Bureau’s available data and current application process. Beginning November 1, 2022, the Census Bureau and the other principal federal statistical agencies and units will begin transitioning applications to the SAP Portal. The timeframe for transitioning applications to the SAP Portal is as follows:

  • Prior to November 1, 2022 – Use the Census Bureau’s current application process described below.
  • November 1, 2022 - December 31, 2022 – the Census Bureau will accept applications using the current application process described below or the SAP Portal common application.
  • January 1, 2023 – All application requesting access to the Census Bureau’s data should be submitted through the SAP Portal common application.  

To learn more about the SAP, please visit the Standard Application Process Overview webpage.

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On January 25, 2022, ResearchDataGov was temporarily decommissioned. A new online Standard Application Process (SAP) is under development for access to all federal statistical agency restricted-use microdata. The Metadata Catalog portion of the new SAP became available on February 28, 2022 to provide prospective researchers comprehensive metadata about federal statistical agencies’ restricted-use microdata and can be found at ResearchDataGov. Later in 2022, the complete SAP will become available for researchers to submit applications for access to federal statistical agencies’ restricted-use microdata.

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In response to Executive Order 13985, the Census Bureau has curated several datasets and tools to assist in the equitable distribution of resources, and identify underserved communities.​

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Explore our analyses and evaluations of Census Bureau surveys and methods in this new collection of staff reports and working papers.

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ResearchDataGov, the new one-stop web portal and application system for discovering and requesting restricted microdata across federal statistical agencies, is now "live".

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We’ve launched this new web page to keep you informed of developments as we implement provisions of the 2018 “Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act” (Public Law 115-435, “Evidence Act”). We’ll add new updates as well as “Impact Stories” that illustrate some of the ways we already support evidence-building across government and in our own work.

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How Evaluation Drives In-House Program Improvement

Our evidence-building program is grounded in strong commitments from leadership and a team of evidence-focused professionals from across the agency. These include program administrators, performance managers, strategic planners, policy and budget staff, evaluators, analysts, and statisticians. They work together to ensure that we are meeting our goals and working effectively.

How Our Work Fuels Evidence-Building across Government

The Census Bureau shares its expertise so Federal, state, and local governments can better understand the populations they serve. Advances in data science allow us to safely and securely combine data sets from multiple sources. This allows us to advance the Census Bureau's mission of providing timely and unbiased data to support evidence-based decision making.

Census Bureau Data Equity Resources​
Our publicly available data sets and tools help federal agencies and other entities equitably distribute resources and identify underserved communities.
Giving States Better Insight into the Children Served by WIC
A joint data linkage project with the USDA gives states a clearer picture of WIC usage and the types of kids and families who are in or could be in the program.
Helping States Better Understand and Serve Their SNAP Population
States that opt-in to this joint USDA data linkage project learn more about the characteristics of their SNAP-eligible and participating population.
The Pulse Surveys: Measuring COVID-19 Impact in Near-Real Time
These experimental data products demonstrate our ability to quickly produce data critical to federal and state response and recovery planning.
Helping Communities Map Social Mobility
The Opportunity Atlas gives communities a powerful tool to understand the forces behind local, long-term social mobility, in an easy-to-use mapping interface.
The Opportunity Project: Sparking Private Sector Data Solutions
We help teams use federal open data to build solutions to our nation’s toughest challenges.
A Cross-Government, One-Stop Application to Streamline Data Access
Per the Federal Data Strategy, we’re working to cut the red tape that frustrates qualified researchers from accessing multiple restricted data sets.
Shedding Light on Your College Investment
The Census Bureau combines LEHD data with new data from state and university system partners to produce information about earnings and higher education.
Page Last Revised - February 26, 2024
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