Census pushes Americans to online form as COVID-19 disrupts 2020 field count

(Census Bureau)


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Less than a week after officially kicking off the 2020 census, the Census Bureau has suspended field operations for the decennial survey until April 1 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

During that period, the bureau is directing Americans to use the count’s online self-response portal so that it can avoid sending census employees door-to-door at the risk of spreading the COVID-19 virus.

As of March 15, more than 5 million Americans have already responded to the census online. The online self-response portal officially went online March 12. In total, the survey has received more than 11 million responses.

Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham “strongly” encourages Americans to respond to the census online “using a desktop computer, laptop, smartphone, or tablet,” or by phone or mail if they prefer, during this lapse in field response operations.

“It has never been easier to respond to the census, and the 2020 Census will count everyone accurately,” he said in a statement Wednesday. “We recognize that many people plan to access the 2020 Census through other response modes, such as phone or paper, which is why the 2020 Census has such a nimble design.”

The 2020 count is supposed to be completed by July 31, the bureau said, but that date “can and will be adjusted if necessary as the situation evolves in order to achieve a complete and accurate count” — a likely occurrence as the federal government continues to take more aggressive measures to fight the spread of the coronavirus.

The online portal, however, was built to take the load off the traditional in-person census outreach and make the count more convenient to digital-savvy Americans.

FedScoop recently spoke to Zack Schwartz, deputy division chief of the U.S. Census Bureau‘s Communications Directorate, at the IT Modernization Summit about the census’ online portal and IT backbone.

“It is incredibly expensive to send someone to your door time and time again to try to get a response. It’s a huge cost savings,” Schwartz said. It could save American taxpayers and the bureau “billions of dollars possibly as opposed to continuing to send people to your door, continuing to print documents and forms that just aren’t needed.”

On top of the savings, it’s a way for the government to interact with citizens in the 21st century as they’ve come to expect in other parts of their lives.

“We knew that the American public was ready to respond online, was ready to use the internet, whether it’s in the back of an Uber, whether it’s on the metro in the morning on your cellphone, or whether it’s on your desktop PC on even on your lunch break, we needed that in order to get a high self-response rate,” Schwartz said. “We knew we needed a modern way for people to interact with the government.”

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2020 census, coronavirus, Steven Dillingham, U.S. Census Bureau