pivotal for the Census Bureau in that it was the first year in which the full suite of ACS products was available for the entire nation—including many localities’ first real glimpse at ACS data, through the 5-year 2005–2009 estimates. The Census Bureau releases ACS estimates primarily through its American FactFinder website at http://factfinder.census.gov.

The unique challenges and opportunities presented by the ACS data were explored by a previous National Research Council (2007b) panel. However, given its dates of operation, that panel’s work was necessarily abstract and hypothetical. So too was the Census Bureau’s own work to prepare data users, including the production of a series of “Compass” handbooks for different types of data users.6 Only with the release of actual data, and following the reaction to the data and to their accompanying and prominently featured margins of error, did the ACS become real and concrete to its potential users. Now in its second decade of large-scale implementation, the release of the first sets of full data also marks an opportune time to assess the ACS, its uses, and its demands.


The U.S. Census Bureau requested that the Committee on National Statistics (CNSTAT) convene a:

workshop on the benefits to a broad array of non-federal users of the data products from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS). The workshop will also address the burden on the American public of responding to the ACS questions. A workshop on the benefits of the ACS is timely because the survey has just completed its first full cycle of releasing 1-, 3-, and 5-year period estimates (for 2009, 2007–2009, and 2005–2009, respectively), and there is need to take stock of user experience with the data and to identify priority uses for the future. The workshop is part of a larger review the Census Bureau is conducting to assess the overall mission, vision, goals, and objectives of the ACS. The Bureau’s review also includes examining the data products along with the methods for conducting and managing the survey.

Pursuant to this charge, CNSTAT convened a steering committee for the workshop, which met in March 2012 to discuss the task and craft the structure of the workshop.

The steering committee made two major decisions that governed the final shape of the workshop. The first was to make the notion of ACS “burden” an integral part of the proceedings and to extend it beyond the single issue of time


6These “Compass” guides included, for instance, volumes targeted at state and local government users (U.S. Census Bureau, 2009), high school teachers (U.S. Census Bureau, 2008b), members of Congress and congressional staff (U.S. Census Bureau, 2008a), and business users (U.S. Census Bureau, 2008c).

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