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Envisioning the 2020 Census
the use of dual-system estimation for census coverage measurement, first implemented in the 1980 census, which made possible more accurate estimation of net undercount by a “do it again, independently” approach, compared with the “do it again, better” approach used in the 1950 and 1960 censuses, in which enumerators rechecked the counts of housing units and people in sampled areas; and
the TIGER geographic coding and mapping system, developed for the 1990 census, which made it possible for the first time to generate maps and geocode addresses by using a computerized database that represented physical features, census geography, and street networks for the entire country.
More recently, the Census Bureau has successfully designed and implemented the American Community Survey (ACS) as a replacement for the census long-form sample. And the Census Bureau has many innovations to its credit in other programs, such as its economic censuses and surveys and its household surveys.
Yet over the past two or three decades, there has been significant erosion in the Census Bureau’s once preeminent position as a world leader in statistical research and development. The cumulative effects of actions and inactions—on the part not only of the Census Bureau, but also of the Department of Commerce and Congress—have led to a situation in which research and development for the decennial census and other programs too often is limited to incremental improvements in existing systems, is planned from the bottom up without sustained top-down strategic direction, is executed without the benefit of using best practices for the design of experiments and tests, expends scarce resources on testing factors that are already well established in the literature while neglecting to test factors that are unique to the scope and scale of the census or another program, is fragmented organizationally, is not well integrated with operations, is not considered a key driver of future directions or new operational procedures, and lacks resources commensurate with needs.
The results of an inadequate and unfocused research infrastructure for the decennial census are evident in the failure to carry out the planned development of handheld technology for nonresponse follow-up in the 2000 census, the failure—even after several decades of on again, off again effort—to make significant use of administrative records in the census and household surveys, the failure to use the Internet in the 2010 census or in household surveys (a test of an Internet response option is planned for the ACS), the failure to adequately evaluate and improve the procedures for updating the Master Address File, the limited and unfocused experiments planned for the 2010 census, and the lack of clearly specified “stretch” goals for plan-