This week's federal player: Daniel Weinberg

Managing the 2010 Census and planning for 2020

Daniel Weinberg
Daniel Weinberg (Sam Kittner/Kittner.com)

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From the Partnership for Public Service
Monday, February 8, 2010; 9:31 AM

The 2010 decennial census is just getting underway, but Daniel Weinberg is already thinking about 2020 and how the Internet might be used to collect the nation's population data.

Weinberg, the assistant director for the Decennial Census and American Community Survey, spends his time in two primary areas: helping make sure everything is in order for the 2010 census and coming up with ways to improve the massive undertaking 10 years from now.

The census is a count of everyone living in the United States, collecting basic information on age, sex, race, Hispanic origin, household relationships and whether a home is owned or rented. By law, both citizens and noncitizens must be counted every 10 years. Census data are used to reapportion congressional seats to states and directly affect how more than $400 billion per year in federal funding is distributed to state, local and tribal governments.

"Each census is a 10-year cycle of planning and testing and research," Weinberg said. "We set a very high bar to automate as much as the process as possible for 2010, and we didn't succeed as much as we would have liked. We need to carry that over to 2020."

Weinberg is in charge of the management, geography and statistical divisions of the Census Bureau, helping chart long and short term strategy, troubleshoot, and keeping the huge,complex process moving. He keeps tab of what is going on, seeks to resolve problems as they arise and provides support where needed.

Currently, 140,000 workers traded traditional paper maps for GPS-equipped handheld computers to update the Census Bureau's master address list of 145 million residences. Despite the technological advance, the Census Bureau, facing technical problems, will continue using the paper-based method for follow up visits to those not responding to the questionnaires being sent out by mail to homes across the country.

Weinberg said the handheld computers could have "a huge impact in 2020," along with the possibility that millions of the census questionnaires will be answered and filed online.

"It sounds simple but there is a big issue with security. One of the reasons we are not using the Internet in this current census is that we haven't figured out the security problems," Weinberg said.

Weinberg said the Census Bureau currently makes use of online surveys, has plans to engage in a number of pilot tests using the Internet in the next several years, and will seek to learn from similar practices in Canada and the United Kingdom. He said one possible option for 2020 involves mailing Internet links to households with user ID's and passwords tied to the housing unit. Today, there is no nationwide database linking email addresses and home addresses, and that will be key, he said.

This year there has been an increased number of home foreclosures stemming from the economic crisis ┬┐ a situation that will make it difficult to ensure an accurate count because so many families have moved and are living with friends or relatives.

David Whitford, chief of the Decennial Statistical Studies Division at the Census Bureau, described Weinberg as "Mr. Inside," a senior executive who handles many of the important day-to-day issues regarding the 2010 census, and who "gets down to the details and knows what is going on throughout the organization."

But Whitford said this is just Weinberg's "day job."

"On top of that, he is working with a small staff at a fast pace to provide the framework for the next census in 2020," Whitford said. "He is very organized and he knows all the issues."

Weinberg has been in government service for three decades, starting out at the Department of Health and Human Services in 1980, and moving to the Census Bureau in 1989 where he was chief of Housing and Household Economic Statistics Division. He then became the chief economist and now an assistant director.

Weinberg said working on the decennial census gives him great pride and a sense of accomplishment.

"Since the decennial census is in our Constitution, it is the most important task a government statistician can undertake," Weinberg said. "The census is a key to our democratic society by making sure that our congressional districts are equal in size so that we have representative democracy. To be involved in something that is central to our democracy is pretty exciting."

This article was jointly prepared by the Partnership for Public Service, a group seeking to enhance the performance of the federal government, and washingtonpost.com. Visit www.ourpublicservice.org for more about the organization's work and go to www.servicetoamericamedals.org to nominate a federal employee for a Service to America Medal.


© 2010 The Washington Post Company

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