Census must change to survive

The Census Bureau cannot afford to continue operating the way it does and unless the agency fundamentally changes the way it does business, it won't be able to fulfill its mission, the bureau's director said Thursday.

"Our costs are [expanding] at a rate that is exceeding inflation every year," said Census Director Robert M. Groves at a 2010 census advisory committee meeting. "This is unsustainable," he said.

Speaking at the bureau's headquarters in Suitland, Md., Groves said Census is trying to be responsive to its mandate, but the world it is measuring is changing rapidly "in a way that challenges our old methods of measuring it."

As participation rates in the decennial census have declined, the historic response has been for bureau personnel to work harder to track down nonparticipants. But by doing that Census has inflated its costs even more, Groves said. Instead, the bureau needs to adapt new technologies and innovate its processes.

"We will either change or be changed; we cannot go on the way we are," he said. "If we keep doing what we're doing we're in trouble."

Groves said he encouraged Census employees nationwide to suggest ways to improve the bureau, but he was dismayed to find many supervisors brushed off the ideas. He then had employees send their ideas directly to him, and he promised to read them all.

Groves expected about 100 ideas, but received almost 700. Some were simple and could be implemented immediately, such as replacing some written communications with e-mail, or purchasing annual traffic passes in lieu of paying daily tolls when Census workers travel. Others were more complex and would require further analysis and potential investment.

The bureau's divisions are under pressure to cut their budgets by 1 percent every year, Graves noted, and said any ideas requiring investment must recoup enough savings to pay for themselves within three years.

"We're in [the] business of getting more efficient," he said. "We have teams working on this already."

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Going Agile:Revolutionizing Federal Digital Services Delivery

    Here’s one indication that times have changed: Harriet Tubman is going to be the next face of the twenty dollar bill. Another sign of change? The way in which the federal government arrived at that decision.

    View
  • Cyber Risk Report: Cybercrime Trends from 2016

    In our first half 2016 cyber trends report, SurfWatch Labs threat intelligence analysts noted one key theme – the interconnected nature of cybercrime – and the second half of the year saw organizations continuing to struggle with that reality. The number of potential cyber threats, the pool of already compromised information, and the ease of finding increasingly sophisticated cybercriminal tools continued to snowball throughout the year.

    View
  • Featured Content from RSA Conference: Dissed by NIST

    Learn more about the latest draft of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology guidance document on authentication and lifecycle management.

    View
  • GBC Issue Brief: The Future of 9-1-1

    A Look Into the Next Generation of Emergency Services

    View
  • GBC Survey Report: Securing the Perimeters

    A candid survey on cybersecurity in state and local governments

    View
  • The New IP: Moving Government Agencies Toward the Network of The Future

    Federal IT managers are looking to modernize legacy network infrastructures that are taxed by growing demands from mobile devices, video, vast amounts of data, and more. This issue brief discusses the federal government network landscape, as well as market, financial force drivers for network modernization.

    View
  • eBook: State & Local Cybersecurity

    CenturyLink is committed to helping state and local governments meet their cybersecurity challenges. Towards that end, CenturyLink commissioned a study from the Government Business Council that looked at the perceptions, attitudes and experiences of state and local leaders around the cybersecurity issue. The results were surprising in a number of ways. Learn more about their findings and the ways in which state and local governments can combat cybersecurity threats with this eBook.

    View

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.