All posts by Brendan Buff

Advocate for Important Data Programs

Congress and the Administration have reached a budget deal for FY2016 (and FY2017) that will increase the overall spending limit for non-defense discretionary programs by $25 billion for the fiscal year that started October 1st. The House and Senate Appropriations Committees must now revise the 12 annual funding bills, and Congress must enact them, before the temporary spending bill (Continuing Resolution) expires on December 11th.

This is an opportunity for APDU members to advocate to the House and Senate subcommittees in charge of funding for the Census Bureau, Bureau of Labor Statistics, and Bureau of Economic Analysis. The new budget framework provides additional resources for the appropriate committees in charge of these vital data programs (Commerce, State, Justice or equivalent in the House/Senate and Housing Education Labor Pensions or equivalent in the House/Senate). APDU’s friends at the Census Project are currently circulating a letter advocating for full ACS funding. Now would be a good time for your Senator or Congressman to hear about the importance of Census, BLS, and BEA funding.

Census Project Briefing on 2020 Census Operational Plan

Census Bureau Director John Thompson will brief Census Project stakeholders on the 2020 Census Preliminary Operational Plan, via a toll-free call on Wednesday, October 21, from 1-2 p.m. Eastern Time. Please RSVP to as soon as possible if you would like to participate. The Census Project will send call-in information to those who have registered. This is an important opportunity to hear firsthand about significant new operations and methods for the 2020 Census and to pose questions and concerns to the Director.

BLS Letter of Support

Friends of Labor Statistics asks that Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) users directly contact your Senators and Representatives to help prevent BLS from having to cut its statistical programs.

The link below provides a template for organizations and individuals to use and revise to specific concerns and circumstances.

BLS Appropriations Template


Congress Learns More About the Importance of the American Community Survey

Funding for the Census Bureau and ACS has been a hot topic on Capitol Hill lately.  Congress is considering making responses to the survey voluntary (currently they are mandatory by law), eliminating questions from the survey that are considered too nosy, and even eliminating the survey entirely.

On May 27, the Census Project, a network of organizations advocating for Census programs, held a briefing for Congressional leaders and their staff on the American Community Survey in the Capitol Visitors Center. The panel providing insights on the importance of the ACS included representatives from business organizations, survey researchers, civil rights advocacy, and local government. Twenty-one organizations (including APDU) co-sponsored the event.

ACS is notable because it has typically drawn bipartisan support, and the private sector simply cannot replicate the power of the ACS.  Larry Jones of the U.S. Conference of Mayors noted the importance that ACS lays in helping to allocate $415 billion of federal funding, not to mention the state and local funding dependent on ACS counts. Chris Gerlach of the International Council of Shopping Centers highlighted ACS’s role in guiding U.S. real estate investment strategies.  Without it, businesses of all sizes would not have the data to guide business investments, commercial lending, and new site locations. Terry Ao Minnis of Asian Americans Advancing Justice noted the role of ACS in helping to assess progress in civil rights and in ensuring that the U.S. can enforce key legislative provisions such as the Voting Rights Act or the Fair Housing Act. At the same time, Howard Fienberg of the Marketing Research Association explained why the federal government must take on the task of conducting the survey.  He noted that it is simply not possible for the private sector to obtain as broad a statistical sample and that even the best voluntary survey would leave about 40 percent of US counties without reliable data because so many fewer people would respond.

The briefing illustrated the strong and diverse constituency supporting the ACS. More importantly, it demonstrated the vital role that this simple data program has in all aspects of American life and why Congress should ensure that it remains a high quality resource for the American people.

The ACS 3-year Demographic Estimates Are History

by Ken Poole:

Census Director John Thompson and Acting Director for the 2020 Census Lisa Blumerman spoke with a group of Census stakeholders today about Census plans regarding the American Community Survey.   My take from the conversation: the ACS 3-year demographic estimates are history.  When Census first developed the ACS in the 1990s, the goal was to replace data from the Census long-form (available every 10 years) with 5-years of aggregated data combined to provide a “rolling average.”  Starting up a program with 5-year rolling averages took quite a long time to move from research and fieldwork (which all needed Congressional support) to useful data placed in the hands of practitioners.  Ultimately, we all knew that annual releases of 5-year estimates would make data available to communities of every size for each and every year (not every decade as before).

But, the fiscal headwinds at the time made patience a virtue that we ironically could ill afford.  The 3-year estimates were designed to get Census data out to many “medium-sized” communities (20,000 to 65,000) two years earlier than the first available 5-year estimates.  As a result, we created the three-part ACS with 1-year estimates for the largest communities, 3-year estimates for medium and large communities, and 5-year estimates for all communities.

Today, Census leaders described the hard decisions they have to make when allocating their limited resources.  Essentially, the 3-year estimates will not be published next fall for 2012-2014 due to the $15 million shortage resulting from the $124 million cut to the Census budget, all coming from the Periodic Programs and Censuses account.

The decision to eliminate the 3-year estimate was part of a series of moves including cuts to follow-up operations support, field representative refresher training, and ACS interviewer observations.   Furthermore, the President’s budget proposal released yesterday did not seek the estimated $2.4 million that would be required to re-instate the 3-year data product in the FY 2016 (so no 2013-2015 estimates would be made either).

Census plans to continue to release 1-year and 5-year estimates and to focus its resources on activities that ensure data quality.  During our discussion, the 5-year estimates were identified as the primary annual data element that ACS promises to provide to every community as part of its mandate.

It is unclear what advocacy on behalf of the 3-year estimates might beget from a Congress that continues to engage in debates about whether responses to the ACS should be voluntary or remain mandatory (or whether the ACS should exist at all).

Suffice it to say that, with no new 3-year averages being published, any users relying on those data will need to start making adjustments now.  The expectation is that once we adjust, the 3-year estimates will go the way of other data products remembered fondly.

APDU Board of Directors Election

The APDU Nominations Committee has nominated the following slate of candidates for 2 at-large board member seats:

The following candidate has been nominated for Vice President:

  • Clifford Cook, Planning Information Manager, City of Cambridge, Massachusetts

Finally, the following candidate has been nominated for President:

  • Warren A. Brown, Research Faculty, Cornell Institute for Social and Economic Research

This announcement opens a 14-day period in which any APDU member (or representative of a member organization) vote for one of the above positions. Members have until December 15, 2014 to cast a vote. Candidate statements are available by clicking on each candidate’s name.

Click here to vote!

Future of Big Data and Federal Statistical Agencies

If the APDU conference presentations are an indication, federal statistical agencies have ambitious plans for the improvement of their programs. Julia Lane of American Institutes of Research discussed new paradigms, analysis, and infrastructure involved in big data in the Keynote speech, titled Innovations in Public Data. In addition, Conference presenters from the Census Bureau and other statistical agencies detailed their plans

On the first day of the conference, APDU board member, Julia Lane, gave a comprehensive and thoughtful speech that analyzed both the future of data analysis and the future of APDU itself. The massive amounts of data available at our disposal is both a blessing and a burden: it forces users to think about what they’re measuring and why, while demanding that they make sense of an intimidating amount of information. In addition, she prescribed a set of actions for the APDU community, including using APDU’s comparative advantages for training and analysis, trusting in quality data for analysis, and making data available for new uses.

The closing session of the conference, Scenarios: The Role of Federal Statistical Agencies in 2020, featured a panel of experts presenting an overview of their future vision, challenges, and vision for their respective programs:

  • Michael Horrigan of BLS discussed alternative data’s potential use in BLS programs and BLS’s efforts to improve their “linking” of administrative data. He sees electronic data collection, algorithms, and data conversion as part of their vision for the future.
  • The Census Bureau’s Ron Jarmin spoke about their need to modernize – evaluating what to measure and how to measure it. They are working on collaborations, staff training and recruitment, and other data projects to help in these efforts. In the future, they expect to gain a better understanding of the costs and benefits of modernization, identify opportunities, improve collaboration, and maintain or enhance current programs.
  • The last speaker, Kimberly Vitelli of ETA, saw the future in terms of delivering actionable information for real people. For example, in order to help combat unemployment, the ETA could tailor information pushes to job seekers. They are also working on improving their credentialing data.

Brian Harris-Kojetin of OMB moderated the session, while Constance Citro of the National Academy of Sciences participated as a discussant in the panel. She spoke of technical changes to the Census for 2020, and how they will benefit other Census programs. As Big Data becomes even bigger, federal agencies are up to the task of helping make sense of it.