Tech already saving Census time and money

The Census Bureau is depending on technology to save time and money when it conducts the 2020 population count.

Already, enumerators can complete 1.56 cases per hour worked compared to the 1.05 per hour average they worked in the 2010 census,  Al Fontenot, associate director of the decennial census program, said an Oct. 19 quarterly update.

Low unemployment has made it difficult for the bureau to hire temporary workers for the 2020 population count, but the productivity increase "more than offset the staff shortage," Fontenot said.  Census, however, will not "depend solely on productivity increases to offset low unemployment numbers," he said. Census hired only 735 enumerators for recent end-to-end tests, when the goal had been 1,049.

Internet self-reporting, an option available for the first time in 2020, surpassed expected responses on the test. More than 61 percent of respondents chose the internet option, compared to the 31 percent who responded through the traditional, paper forms.

Atri Kalluri, chief of the bureau's Decennial Information Technology Division, said 42 of the 44 systems needed for the 2018 test have been deployed, and the remaining two that support the tabulation operation and have a Jan. 7, 2019, release date. Kalluri said the systems issues that surfaced during the test include integrating data between systems and making sure additional testing and preparation phases take place between now and 2020.

Amid the unprecedented reliance on technology and concerns over the inclusion of a citizenship question, the bureau has also released a new Disclosure Avoidance System based on differential privacy, which injects random "noise" into the aggregate data to better protect the identities of individual respondents. The goal of the system, said Simson Garfinkle, Census’ senior computer scientist for confidentiality and data access for the associate directorate for research and methodology, is to ensure respondent data is protected and published accurately.

"When we started this project in 2017, there was no off-the-shelf system for applying differential privacy to a national census," he said. "Ours will be the first such implementation in the world."

This article was first posted to FCW, a sibling site to GCN.

About the Author

Chase Gunter is a former FCW staff writer.


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