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2016 in Review

Wed Dec 28 2016
Written by John H. Thompson
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As 2016 comes to an end, I want to recognize the hard work and notable achievements that we’ve accomplished at the U.S. Census Bureau this year. We’re always working to serve our customers better — whether they are responding to a survey or want data about their community. This year was no exception.

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This year, we conducted over 130 surveys. We published a wealth of statistics and data, including a major release on income, poverty and health insurance in America. Our call centers answered more than 1.6 million calls from the public, and Data Dissemination Specialists met with individuals, businesses and government officials all across the country. We rolled out new tools and datasets to make our statistics easier to use and made enhancements to existing tools; we added visualizations to our “smart search” function on; and we announced new ways to get our economic data earlier than before.

Our staff continued to advance our mission through research, producing over 85 research papers and publications and making over 300 presentations in major scientific forums — including the Joint Statistical Meetings, the American Association of Public Opinion Research, the Population Association of America and the American Economic Association. We added new Federal Statistical Research Data Centers in Kansas and Maryland, bringing our total to 24. We continued to make improvements that will benefit our future censuses and surveys, including the upcoming 2017 Economic Census [PDF] and the 2020 Census.

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The excellent work of Census Bureau employees led to some exciting achievements in 2016, including:

  • Making great progress in preparing for the 2020 Census. We’ve awarded four significant contracts to ensure the success of systems integration, operational readiness, and communications and outreach. We tested core census operations in Harris County, Texas, and Los Angeles County, Calif., and began testing address canvassing procedures and systems in Buncombe County, N.C., and St. Louis, Mo. We completed 18 tribal consultations throughout the nation, and we asked the public for their input on how to count people in the right place.
  • Designing, developing and deploying IT solutions that get you data faster than ever. This year, we reduced the lag time between economic indicators' official release and when they are accessible to the public to the smallest it’s ever been. Every person in America now has access to the economic indicators in as little as one second after their release. This improvement is a response to our customers’ requests for more timely access to our data.
  • Releasing the 2011-2015 American Community Survey (ACS) five-year statistics, letting users identify trends for social and economic characteristics for even the smallest communities. As the nation’s largest household survey, the ACS is the only annual dataset that produces statistics for all of the nation’s 3,142 counties. For the three-fourths of all counties with populations too small to produce single-year statistics (2,323 counties), it’s the only available dataset. This year, we added “Comparison Profile” tables to our five-year statistics, so you can compare differences between nonoverlapping datasets.
  • Participating in the Opportunity Project, an initiative led by the U.S. Department of Commerce in collaboration with federal partners including the U.S. Departments of Housing and Urban Development, Agriculture, Labor, Education, the Surgeon General, and more. The Opportunity Project uses our data to empower the private sector to build tools to help local communities. Some example tools include new ways to understand grant eligibility in rural communities; where to find affordable housing in relation to high job density; and career building assistance for veterans to re-enter the workforce. This is a new way that the federal government is collaborating with local leaders, technologists, nonprofits and community members to leverage data to expand access to opportunity and fair housing across the country, and it’s an exciting extension of the work we’ve done with the City SDK (Software Development Kit) and the Census APIs.
  • Successfully refining our field survey structure. We assessed how the evolution of technology and communication tools has affected the efficiency of our ongoing data collection activities, and we made adjustments to allow decision makers to work in a collaborative and centralized environment. This will improve communications between survey supervisors — the decision making process will be faster and more consistent, which will have a positive impact on regional survey coordination.
  • Establishing the Census Emerging Professionals Program, a competitive, two-year initiative to help clerical and administrative employees “bridge” into professional and technical career paths. In September, four employees graduated from the program’s on-the-job and formal training, education, mentoring, job shadowing and career coaching — and are now in career-ladder positions.
  • Made great progress in preparing for a transformed Economic Census, which is coming in 2017. The Economic Census provides the most comprehensive, detailed and authoritative facts about the structure and functionality of the U.S. economy. We’re moving to 100% internet data collection; reducing the burden for businesses to respond; automating operations to increase efficiency and productivity; and improving and accelerating the release of data products. As a result, the 2017 Economic Census will be more efficient, and improve our ability to measure our dynamic economy.
  • Releasing findings from the inaugural Annual Survey of Entrepreneurs. This survey responds to our customers’ requests for more timely data by providing an updated socio-economic portrait of America’s business owners. This partnership with the Minority Business Development Agency and Kauffman Foundation is a model for public-private collaboration. Among the highlights, we found that among the 5.4 million U.S. firms with paid employees, 481,981 (or 8.9 percent) had been in business for less than two years in 2014.
  • Welcoming the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) to the Suitland Federal Center. Preparing for this move was a big effort — many spaces in our building were transformed, thousands of employees relocated to different work areas, and we collaborated with BEA to work out a shared approach to data stewardship. The hard work paid off with a seamless and productive transition. Much of the economic work at BEA and the Census Bureau is interconnected; now that we share physical space, collaboration is even easier. We even created a Census-BEA Working Group to support decision making that promotes economic growth.

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With all this work came many accolades. In 2016, 14 Census Bureau employees won Gold and Silver Medals presented by the Secretary of Commerce for distinguished and exceptional service. In addition, the Census Bureau awarded 262 employees with Bronze Medals for significant contributions. In May, employees were honored at the Public Service Recognition Award Ceremony with awards for Census Award of Excellence, Diversity Champion and Leadership Award, Equal Employment Opportunity Award, Outstanding Mentor Award, and the Director’s Award for Innovation. Throughout the year, employees were awarded honors including the Roger Herriot Award for Innovation in Federal Statistics from the American Statistical Association, a Blue Pencil & Gold Screen Award from the National Association of Government Communicators, the Julius Shiskin Award for Economic Statistics, and a Digital Strategy and Impact Award for Promoted & Transformed Services from GovDelivery.

These impressive achievements wouldn’t be possible without the diligent, excellent, and ongoing efforts of Census Bureau employees. Thank you for all your hard work, this year and every year. With research and innovation, we’ll continue to provide quality data about America’s people, places and economy.

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