Branch Chief Management Information Systems
By the numbers
US Census Bureau optimizes reporting with SAS® Business Analytics
US Census Bureau is responsible for collecting national demographic and economic data. Every 10 years it performs the official decennial count of people living in the US, which helps the federal government determine such things as the number of seats each state is allowed in the House of Representatives, as well as the amount of funding each state is granted annually. Performing the decennial census is a multiyear project and costs billions of dollars to complete. With the help of SAS® Business Analytics, the government agency is able to evaluate the progress of work and monitor associated costs to ensure the census is completed on time and within budget.
As one would expect, the majority of work and costs to perform the decennial census is associated with collecting and managing data – derived from paper forms that are mailed out to households or recorded manually by enumerators sent into the field. The 2010 census, with a budget of $7.4 billion, was said to be one of the most efficient on record, with 72 percent of people mailing back their forms, and came in under budget by $1.6 billion.
"We were able to link to databases directly versus pulling data out for the reports … the users actually learned how to do their own reports, creating a lot of efficiency for the MIS team. It was a big plus and it has grown the use of SAS at the bureau."
Making it count
The US Census Bureau’s Management Information Systems (MIS) branch used SAS Business Analytics. The executive team in charge of the 2010 project was supported by daily progress reports, budget updates and the ability to perform ad hoc analysis in order to provide efficient and effective decisions related to census operations.
"The system we built with SAS was used by management to see how much money was spent and the progress that was being made every day – either in the field or at headquarters," says Guinevere Mills, Branch Chief, Management Information Systems. "They could look at the reports and see if they were under or over budget, where work was being completed early and where it was behind, so that they could effectively allocate resources where they were needed."
According to Mills, the MIS team’s work on the 2010 census began in 2007 with address list verification. It later identified which households would receive a form and which ones would receive a visit from enumerators in person – followed by the actual field work in 2009.
"Our branch is responsible for reporting the cost and the progress of 26 census operations as they occur," explains Annette Quinlan Davis, Development Team Lead. "We have 14 data sources – such as payroll, response integration and statistical studies systems – that feed the reports on the SAS Business Intelligence portal."
Using SAS, Mills and Davis say the team achieved a number of efficiencies of its own during the most recent census, compared to the last one a decade ago.
"We were able to link to databases directly versus pulling data out for the reports," says Mills. "Also, the users really loved the ability to create their own ad hoc reports on the portal, which they didn't have in 2000. So while we create a lot of reports – such as trending and response rates – the users actually learned how to do their own reports, creating a lot of efficiency for the MIS team. It was a big plus and it has grown the use of SAS at the bureau."
"For any data integration work we were able to perform code reviews," Davis explains. "SAS' standardized code generation reduced the amount of freeform coding that needed to be done.
"We generally work with program managers who give us the requirements for the management reports," adds Davis. "Sometimes, after the reports were created, they would want to make modifications and would go in, with very little training from us, and make the changes – they really liked that. We had a few areas that created 15 to 20 ad hoc reports themselves to help manage their operations."
Counting on quality
Even though the official census only happens every 10 years, Mills says her team's work reporting on operations continues long after the census is completed, and involves providing information for post-census analysis.
Research will begin shortly for 2020. Mills is looking at using SAS Business Analytics to build a performance measurement dashboard that will further optimize senior management’s ability to track key project metrics, and make fast and effective decisions related to census project operations.
Required a system to provide daily progress reports, budget positions and the ability to perform ad hoc analysis to support efficient and effective decisions related to census operations.
Daily progress reports, budget updates and ad hoc analysis, delivered through a business intelligence portal, support efficient and effective decisions related to census operations. Efficiency of data integration processes improved by 50 percent, and time spent reviewing code related to data management and report creation was significantly reduced.