NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Potential Census Bureau Cost Savings

October 27, 2015

The U.S. Census Bureau (Bureau) estimates that for the 2020 census it can save $1.4 billion using administrative records: information that has already been provided to the government as it administers other programs.

A major test completed in 2015 demonstrated the feasibility of using administrative records to reduce the cost of its largest decennial field operation.

  • The outcome of the test was successful because it revealed a variety of new methods and advanced technologies that are under consideration for the 2020 Census.
  • The test also demonstrated the feasibility of a prototype system for managing the field operation.
  • However, using the administrative records to update information and in turn save money will require detailed planning.
  • This would include preventing disclosure of records and addressing concerns the public may have over their use, and obtaining access to remaining records.

Considering that the cost of the census has steadily risen during the past 40 years, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) encourages the Bureau to use administrative records to save costs. 

The GAO concluded that Census Director needs to ensure that resources focus on activities with promise to reduce cost by documenting milestones related to deciding which records to use for which purposes and by systematically recording better information about implementation issues affecting specific cases in future tests.

Source: Government Accountability Office. "Additional Actions Would Help the Bureau Realize Potential Administrative Records Cost Savings," Government Accountability Office, October 20, 2015.


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