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Updating Congress on Testing for the 2020 Census

Tue Nov 29 2016
John H. Thompson
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We’re continuing to make great progress at the U.S. Census Bureau in preparing for the 2020 Census. On Nov. 16, I was proud to testify before the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Government Operations that our preparations remain on track and on schedule. As of right now, we have made 259 of our 350, 2020 Census Operational Plan design decisions and the remaining are on schedule. We continue to work with the Government Accountability Office, receiving thoughtful input on our plans.

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Census tests are critical to implementing the four key innovation areas that will make it easier for people to respond to the census, and save taxpayers more than $5 billion. From testing, we learn what works and what doesn’t, and we make adjustments. In September, we began testing our address canvassing procedures and systems in parts of Buncombe County, N.C., where Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Mark Meadows observed our field operations, and in parts of St. Louis, Mo.  As part of this test, we’re assessing methodologies and data sources to detect new residential developments, or to show neighborhoods that remain unchanged since the 2010 Census.

Earlier this year, we tested core census operations — including how we process, store and protect the data we receive from respondents — in Harris County, Texas, and Los Angeles County, Calif. It was a valuable learning experience with several notable successes. For example, we achieved a positive impact on response rates by using a letter as the first reminder; as in past census tests, we successfully matched a large majority of respondent addresses to our frame without a Census ID; we expanded our language support services to include Chinese and Korean; and we gained insight into several areas that we need to improve, such as better training for enumerators and better procedures for enumerators at multiunit structures, like apartment buildings.

In addition to the address canvassing test, the Census Bureau had been planning field test operations in 2017. Due to funding uncertainty, on Oct. 18, the Census Bureau was forced to announce that we’re stopping work on the Puerto Rico Census Test, as well as the field component of the 2017 Census Test in the Standing Rock Reservation in North and South Dakota and the Colville Reservation and Off-Reservation Trust Land in Washington state. These requirements and their related costs have been driven into potential consideration for incorporation into the 2018 End-to-End Census Test. Stopping these tests is not an ideal outcome for the operational risk of the 2018 End-to-End Census Test and the 2020 Census; but overall, it’s the best option, given the funding uncertainty.

It was an honor to testify before the Subcommittee on Government Operations and to answer lawmakers’ questions about our work. I thank the subcommittee for its continued support and interest in the 2020 Census. I am confident the Census Bureau will achieve its goal of counting everyone in America once, only once, and in the right place in 2020.

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