census (although it may have been useful in support of the American Community Survey). Similarly, it was not useful to test an administrative records census in the Administrative Records Census 2000 Experiment when that was a remote possibility for the 2010 census. We understand that it will not be possible for the Census Bureau to produce a single proposal for the general design of the next census when it is time to select the experiments and evaluations for the current census, but it should be possible to produce a relatively small number of leading alternative designs that are under consideration. To help define possible designs, fundamental questions like the following might be asked:

  • Could the telephone or the Internet be used more broadly as an alternative to mailing back census questionnaires for data collection?

  • Could administrative records or other data sources be used to better target various operations?

  • Could administrative records be used to augment last-resort or proxy enumeration in the latter stages of nonresponse follow-up?

Having a set of designs that are under consideration helps to direct the experimentation toward resolving important issues that discriminate among the designs.

Although we realize that the following are not readily available, in the future it would also be useful to have, for both the current census processes and, to the extent possible, any alternative approaches: (1) estimates of census costs by component operation (and the recent history of costs)1 and (2) the potential impact on the quality of the collected data by component operation. The attribution of both coverage and characteristics error, to component operations or current processes, let alone suggested alternatives, on a national level, not to mention for demographic subgroups, would have been very difficult to achieve in past censuses. The planned census coverage measurement program in 2010 is hoping to make progress in assessing and attributing component coverage error to various sources. This is an important development because the Census Bureau could better justify priorities in undertaking various experiments by providing information on the impact on costs and quality of various alternatives. Furthermore, even if estimates of costs and impacts on accuracy are difficult to estimate, it should generally be possible to determine the major cost drivers and the leading sources of error.

There are two other modifications to the Census Bureau’s list of topics that would have facilitated setting priorities. First, it would have been helpful if the list had been separated into candidates for evaluations and


It is useful to note here that the cost of the 2010 census is projected to be over $11 billion, which is approximately $100 per housing unit. Therefore, the use of any alternatives that have substantial cost savings is a crucial benefit in looking toward the 2020 census.

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