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A Look Ahead: 2023

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So here we are in 2023. The U.S. Census Bureau has endured the throes of 2020, when multiple challenges including a global pandemic threatened the completion of our constitutionally mandated decennial census. But complete it, we did, and our final 2020 Census data products — the most detailed to date — will be released later this year. And our other censuses and surveys have continued, unabated.

Our work on censuses and surveys these past years has taught us that we can be both innovative and nimble. In fact, we have absorbed those attributes into our strategic planning and our ongoing transformation and modernization initiative. We are reengineering our processes, our practices and indeed our thinking about how a federal statistical agency operates in the 21st century.

We are moving towards a single enterprise, data-centric operation that enables us to funnel data from many sources in a single data lake using common collection and ingestion platforms. This enterprise-level data approach allows us to more effectively conduct our censuses and surveys. We will more selectively solicit data (e.g., survey data collection) to add value and accuracy. And when we solicit data from households, people, governments or businesses, we will be able to do so in a tailored, culturally relevant fashion, especially from those who have historically been the most challenging to secure participation. This is the essence of a curated data approach — assemble, assess and fill in the gaps to create quality statistical data products.

A critical lesson we learned these past few years is that the Census Bureau cannot accomplish its mission alone. We need a community-of-the-whole approach, an ecosystem of partners and stakeholders working together with us to realize our mission. We must actively engage with partners, stakeholders, communities, government officials, researchers and the public. We plan and operate best when we gather everyone’s feedback, ideas and concerns. We build trust and strengthen ties when we help everyone understand the genuine value of Census Bureau data for assessment, planning, monitoring, policymaking and learning about who we are as Americans. We need to understand issues and concerns from the community/stakeholder perspective and respond in same fashion.

These lessons reinforce the importance of clearly articulating our core values of scientific integrity, objectivity, transparency and independence. They also highlight the value of innovation through the practice of diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility in our operations. Applying these principles in the workplace and with our partners can catalyze innovation, accelerate our transformation, and lead to more accurate and relevant data products. Our values and principles must be the drivers of our decision-making. And our strategic plan and transformation and modernization initiative must motivate our priorities. It is in this context that we articulate our Census Bureau priority areas for 2023.

Modernization of surveys. Household and economic surveys are witnessing continued declines in participation rates as well as accompanying elevation of per unit costs. We will begin with candidate surveys that can start the process and benefit most from immediate attention, using lessons learned to then apply to all.

Administrative records enumeration. The 2020 Post-Enumeration Survey revealed instances where the accuracy of administrative record (ADREC) from sources like the Social Security Administration exceeded that of answers provided by neighbors and landlords when households had not responded. We will focus on expanding data sources and conducting research to improve decennial census coverage and quality. In some cases, ADREC data can also provide counts of the number of household members without the cost and effort of in-person enumeration efforts. Research will help identify where ADREC is the most effective allocation of resources to account for households missed in surveys and censuses, so that we can fill data gaps, especially among historically undercounted populations.

Engagement — external. We need a community-of-the-whole effort to accomplish our mission, including help from data users, stakeholders, partners, researchers and so on. Community engagement is key, and it must involve a two-way flow of ideas, suggestions, concerns, and feedback. We will strengthen ties to our data users, developing data tools and products tailored to different user communities, and review and facilitate access to data from our Federal Research Data Centers as well as the nascent National Statistical Data Service. We will also strengthen ties with tribes on a nation-to-nation basis, and conduct outreach to communities that have concentrations of historically undercounted populations. A key to strengthening community ties will be through partnerships with universities in historically Black and Hispanic colleges and universities (HBCUs and HHCUs) and with tribal colleges. Engagement also requires an enhanced strategic communications plan that demonstrates a commitment to transparency, data utility and scientific integrity.

Engagement — internal. A community-of-the-whole approach also includes the Census Bureau’s most valuable assets — our career staff. We will continue our efforts to enhance the work culture of the Census Bureau by promoting enterprise-level innovation efforts, holding listening sessions that actively seek and incorporate diverse perspectives from all levels, and providing equitable opportunities for career growth to all. This includes continued outreach to all staff stationed at our headquarters facilities, our National Processing Center and our regional offices as well as our remote work staff. It also includes our critical, cherished Census Bureau staff who work in the field daily interacting with the public to solicit and secure survey and census data.

Economic statistics modernization. We seek to realize the value of emerging methods that will allow us to use our data more fully. Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) are tools that are facilitating fuller development and automation of economic statistics using administrative data. This year we will focus on retail statistics by identifying and using additional non-survey data sources. Our Re-Engineering Statistics using Economic Transactions (RESET) team is currently refining and conducting scalability testing of experimental integrated retail statistics.

To be clear, the Census Bureau is a large organization and there are many projects that are being planned and are already underway. These 2023 priority areas are motivating specific activities that are advancing our modernization and transformation initiative and our strategic plan in a way that transcends our business as usual.

These ambitious priorities, with constituent activities, will all benefit from principles of diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility to promote creativity and innovation as well as to advance excellence at the Census Bureau. Moreover, decisions on projects, planning and actions will be based on our core values of scientific integrity, objectivity, transparency and independence.

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