Groves envisions future censuses to be cheaper, more mobile

Wednesday - 8/8/2012, 11:57am EDT

Robert Groves, Director, U.S. Census Bureau

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Robert Groves led the U.S. Census Bureau into an era of technological innovation in the hopes of lowering costs and collecting better data for future censuses.

Groves spoke with The Federal Drive with Tom Temin and Emily Kopp days before stepping down as director after three years on the job. He will become provost at Georgetown University.

Among the recent successes the agency has seen is a 2010 Census that came in on time and under budget by nearly $2 billion. Groves has kickstarted an 18-month reorganization expected to save another $15 million annually. The agency is also testing technological upgrades for the 2020 Census.

"A key decision was to integrate any of the developments we're launching for 2020 into our ongoing surveys and censuses. So, the benefit of that is when 2020 comes, we would run it on a family of systems that would've been tried and true at that point," Groves said.

The technological changes also reflect an acknowledgement that the devices Americans use are becoming more "mobile, small, varied," Groves said. And this will especially be true in 2020.

Census has a Center for Applied Technology to test software on various mobile devices. On one wall of the center is nearly every mobile device now on the market, Groves said.

"This is an example of something we've tried to work on really diligently, and that is try to knock the barriers across the different administrative silos and work together as team," Groves said. "To the extent we can pull that off, we're going to have a cheaper 2020 Census and I think one that's on the cutting edge and very high quality."

The greatest promise for data now is the ability to combine data from multiple sources, but one of the biggest "legislative impediments" to the agency is the inability to access some administrative databases where Americans have already answered questions, he said.

"Most countries of the world have worked out statistical uses of those records," Groves said.