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Adopt Real Continuous Updating of the Should There Be a
Master Address File 2020 Census?
The Master Address File (MAF) is perhaps the Up to now, I have posed questions to do with plan-
critical component of the current approach to ning for the 2020 Census. This really begs a ques-
conducting a decennial census. In recognition tion: Should there be a 2020 Census at all? At first
of that, the U.S. Census Bureau has procedures look, the question seems silly and the answer seems
in place to provide for updates to the MAF. At obvious. That may well be so, but here is a major
present, I understand the U.S. Census Bureau has public policy issue that transcends all the preced-
instituted a program for a 100% block canvass to ing ones. I do not suggest here that we not have a

One of the
update the MAF. While I do not disagree with the census in 2020 (although other countries seem to
intent, the existence of the program indicates the cur- survive without one), but that the question may be
tools often
rent procedures to update the MAF are not adequate. ripe for consideration.
proposed for
This calls into question, for example, the placement of Unless dramatic changes are made, the cost of
the MAF program in the U.S. Census Bureau bureau- the current census will be approximately $15 bil-
improving the
cracy, the adequacy of the local community update lion in 2009 dollars. Although this number does
program and, in the context of the previous section, not seem to be large compared with some of the
enumeration is
how field updates can be more consistently incorpo- projects discussed today, I would argue it is still a
an adjustment
rated into the MAF. As much as any of the previous considerable amount of money. Moreover, the tra-
suggestions, this must involve the user community ditional decennial census is disruptive to the U.S.
based on a
and government at all levels. A program to accom- Census Bureau and the budget process. It is true
plish this should be started in 2010. that there is a constitutional mandate to perform a
census. It is also true that it is not clear whether this
Actively Incorporate Statistical
mandate can be changed. While the census is used
Evaluation Considerations for reapportionment and redistricting, it cannot

While the decennial census is an enormous opera-
meet the required accuracy. Other models might be
tions enterprise involving several hundred thousand
developed for reapportionment and redistricting.
workers with the intent of touching everyone in the
The decennial census was traditionally used for
country, it is also a statistical enterprise. Statistical
small-area data, but two changes have taken place
tools have been used in all stages of the decennial
over time. First, we already use models to produce
census. The most controversial topic has been one
estimates that are accepted by Congress for alloca-
of employing post-enumeration adjustment. The
tion of funds in small governmental areas. Second,
nation will spend more than $10 billion on the
the American Community Survey has come to
2010 Census and the U.S. Census Bureau will strive
be the source for much small-area (and not-so-
mightily to count everyone. In fact, it has an obliga-
small-area) data with more current data than the
tion to try and account for everyone. Nevertheless,
decennial. Finally, it may be that the decennial
it will not be possible to achieve the level of accu-
census cannot keep up with the structural changes
racy required by many users.
in society.
One of the tools often proposed for improv-
It is relatively easy to take a blank piece of
ing the enumeration is an adjustment based on a
paper and make suggestions about how to plan
post-enumeration survey. It is not be possible in
for the 2020 Census. It is even easier when one
this brief space to review the adjustment issues
is not responsible for implementing the sug-
that have raged over the past decades. However,
gestions. The hard work is done every day at
the U.S. Census Bureau agreed to not adjust the
agencies such as the U.S. Census Bureau. The
2000 Census and I am not aware of any plans to
lack of resources, money, and people, as well as
try to adjust the 2010 Census. However, advances
daily pressures, will cause difficult choices to be
in knowledge are always made, and despite the con-
made about what is possible for planning the
tentious nature of this issue, it may be necessary to
2020 Census. While the U.S. Census Bureau
revisit the decision in 2011 or 2012 to determine
and Congress are properly focused on the next
whether it should be reaffirmed.
decennial census, now may be the best time to
There are other statistical issues that could
begin serious planning for the 2020 Census. ■
require attention, such as how the evaluation proce-
dures can be improved and made timelier and how Hermann Habermann was deputy director of the
to improve the estimates of differential coverage by U.S. Census Bureau, director of the United Nations
race/Hispanic origin and local area. Statistics Division, and chief of statistical policy at the
Office of Management and Budget.
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