Fast Facts

The Census Bureau needs an accurate address list to count everyone once, only once, and in the right place. To that end, the Bureau allows tribal, state, and local governments to review and offer updates to its master address list.

The Bureau received 5.1 million updates—more than it expected. As a result, it only reviewed a fraction of them in the office. This means that Census workers will have to visit more addresses in person—which could mean millions of dollars of additional fieldwork.

For the future 2030 Census, we recommended reviewing more of these updates in the office.

Census worker approaching a house

Census worker approaching a house

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Highlights

What GAO Found

The Census Bureau generally followed the operational design for its Local Update of Census Addresses (LUCA) program, which is intended to give tribal, state, and local governments the ability to review and offer modifications to the Bureau's Master Address File (MAF). The Bureau met milestones, apart from extending the participation window for natural disaster-stricken areas, and generally followed plans for outreach, training, and participation options.

However, some decisions created additional fieldwork. The Bureau received more updates from participants than it expected, so it only reviewed roughly 860,000 of the 5.1 million updates that did not match to the MAF (see figure below). The rest will be added to potential fieldwork. Had more addresses been reviewed in-office, many may have been rejected, based on the rejection rate for reviewed addresses. Avoiding this unnecessary fieldwork could have saved the Bureau millions of dollars when following up with non-responding households.

Most LUCA Updates That Did Not Match the Census Bureau's (Bureau) Data Were Added to the Bureau's Address List for Address Canvassing and Enumeration

Most LUCA Updates That Did Not Match the Census Bureau's (Bureau) Data Were Added to the Bureau's Address List for Address Canvassing and Enumeration

The Bureau has not reexamined LUCA with respect to the cost, quality, and public perception of the census since the program was authorized in 1994. Yet much has changed since then, from the tools the Bureau uses in building its address list to the provision of publicly accessible address data. As the Bureau turns to its strategic planning process for 2030, it will have several issues to address regarding the future of LUCA, including:

whether LUCA should continue to have a role in building the address list given the advent of other address-building initiatives;

how often to have governments review the MAF for the census, in light of the costs and benefits of administering such a program more frequently;

whether statutory nondisclosure protection of census address data is still needed given that address data sources and services are more prevalent.

Why GAO Did This Study

A complete address list is a cornerstone of the Bureau's effort to conduct an accurate census. LUCA is one of several operations the Bureau uses to produce its address list. It gives tribal, state, and local governments the opportunity to review the address list for their areas and provide the Bureau with any updates before the census.

GAO was asked to review the status of LUCA, including its effect on other operations, as well as LUCA's overall effectiveness and necessity. This report examines (1) LUCA's status and its likely effects on 2020 field operations, and (2) what considerations the Bureau and other stakeholders could use to reexamine LUCA for 2030. GAO reviewed Bureau plans, analyzed data from LUCA participation and the Bureau's review of submissions, and held 9 discussions on a possible reexamination of LUCA with relevant Bureau officials, a council representing participating governments, and census data subject matter specialists.

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Recommendations

GAO is making eight recommendations to the Department of Commerce, including that the Bureau ensure more LUCA submissions are reviewed and reexamine LUCA to address the related issues GAO identified as part of the Bureau's strategic planning process for the 2030 Census. The Department of Commerce agreed with our findings and recommendations and described several cost savings and efficiency gains—which we have not audited—from their related address list-building efforts. The Census Bureau, Office of Management and Budget, and U.S. Department of Transportation each also provided us with technical comments, which we incorporated as appropriate.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Commerce The Secretary of Commerce should ensure that the Director of the Census Bureau identifies metrics on the extent to which governments participating in LUCA overlap in their coverage of residents, as well as the characteristics of participants such as type of government and geographic area, and reports on such metrics. (Recommendation 1)
Open
Commerce agreed with this recommendation. In its April 2020 action plan, the Bureau indicated that its 2020 LUCA Assessment would identify the impacts, if any, of governments providing overlapping coverage in their submissions to the Bureau. In May 2021, Bureau officials indicated that the LUCA assessment has been delayed into 2022. In order to fully implement this recommendation, the Bureau will need to identify metrics on submissions from governments that describe both the participating governments and extent of their overlap in coverage.
Department of Commerce The Secretary of Commerce should ensure that the Director of the Census Bureau takes steps to conduct in-office reviews of a greater share of addresses submitted by governments before the addresses are added to the Bureau's address list for potential field work. (Recommendation 2)
Open
Commerce agreed with this recommendation. In its April 2020 action plan, the Bureau indicated that it would continue to identify improvements to address list-sharing programs so that more addresses submitted by governments are reviewed using in-office methods. In May 2021, Bureau officials indicated that the LUCA assessment that would inform these efforts has been delayed into 2022. In order to fully implement this recommendation, the Bureau will need to take steps that result in a greater share of addresses submitted by governments being reviewed in-office.
Department of Commerce The Secretary of Commerce should ensure that the Director of the Census Bureau, as part of the Bureau's assessment of LUCA for 2020, consults with OMB to report on the factors that led to enumeration outcomes of addresses reinstated to the Bureau's master address list by the LUCA appeals process. (Recommendation 3)
Open
Commerce agreed with this recommendation. In its April 2020 action plan, the Bureau indicated that it would research appeals-reinstated addresses to determine the factors that led to the initial rejection of those addresses, any reasons for their reinstatement upon appeal, and the enumeration outcomes of those addresses. In May 2021, Bureau officials indicated that the LUCA assessment that would inform these efforts has been delayed into 2022. In order to fully implement this recommendation, the Bureau will need to complete and report on this work.
Department of Commerce The Secretary of Commerce should ensure that the Director of the Census Bureau identifies and tracks specific costs for related address list development efforts. (Recommendation 4)
Open
Commerce agreed with this recommendation. In its April 2020 action plan, the Bureau indicated that it would use existing systems to identify and report the costs of individual address list update-related activities. The Bureau also indicated that it would develop the means for capturing the cost of machine-based methods of updating the address list. In May 2021, Bureau officials indicated that they are working to finalize a methodology to regularly identify and monitor costs and variances for address list development projects as part of its budget tracking mechanism. In order to fully implement this recommendation, the Bureau will need to identify and track costs with sufficient detail and breadth to compare the relative cost-effectiveness of alternative efforts it considers and uses to build its address list.
Department of Commerce The Secretary of Commerce should ensure that the Director of the Census Bureau improves the use of LUCA results to inform procedures of other decennial operations, such as sharing information on address update quality to inform NRFU planning or administrative records modeling. (Recommendation 5)
Open
Commerce agreed with this recommendation. In its April 2020 action plan, the Bureau indicated that it would investigate how best to improve the flow of address data from governments into other census activities, such as research on administrative records or address canvassing. In May 2021, Bureau officials indicated that the LUCA assessment that would inform these efforts has been delayed into 2022. In order to fully implement this recommendation, the Bureau will need to establish and demonstrate the use of pathways for data on addresses collected from governments and their quality to inform the planning of other census activities that rely on address data.
Department of Commerce The Secretary of Commerce should ensure that the Director of the Census Bureau realigns the schedule of LUCA-related programs to provide participants with more time to review addresses. (Recommendation 6)
Open
Commerce agreed with this recommendation. In its April 2020 action plan, the Bureau indicated that it would look for opportunities to allow participants more time to review the address list for their areas, subject to the timing and design of LUCA 2030. In May 2021, Bureau officials indicated that the LUCA assessment that would help inform these efforts has been delayed into 2022. In order to fully implement this recommendation, the Bureau will need to ensure that governments invited to review addresses are provided sufficient time to review them.
Department of Commerce The Secretary of Commerce should ensure that the Director of the Census Bureau uses the Bureau's data on hard-to-count areas to inform geographic activities such as: targeting LUCA outreach to tribal, state, and local governments; planning additional rounds of in-office address canvassing; and providing feedback to tribal, state, and local governments on gaps in their respective address data. (Recommendation 7)
Open
Commerce agreed with this recommendation. In its April 2020 action plan, the Bureau indicated that it would give participants access to the Bureau's data on hard-to-count areas so that participants could prioritize their address list review efforts. In May 2021, Bureau officials indicated that the LUCA assessment that would help inform these efforts has been delayed into 2022. In order to fully implement this recommendation, the Bureau will need to demonstrate how it is using its data on hard-to-count areas to improve targeting of outreach to governments, planning other address-improvement activity, and providing feedback to governments.
Department of Commerce The Secretary of Commerce should ensure that the Director of the Census Bureau, as part of the Bureau's strategic planning process for geographic programs, reexamines LUCA in conjunction with stakeholders, other federal agencies as appropriate, and Congress to address the issues we have identified, including but not limited to:
  • Identifying and assessing alternatives and describing corresponding effects on the decennial census.
  • Reporting out on the assessment of alternatives, including justifications.
  • Developing legislative proposals, as appropriate, for any changes needed to LUCA and address data in order to implement preferred alternatives. (Recommendation 8)
Open
Commerce agreed with this recommendation. In its April 2020 action plan, the Bureau indicated that it would reach out to stakeholders in the Summer of 2022 to discuss reexamining LUCA and other address frame initiatives. In May 2021, Bureau officials indicated that the LUCA assessment that would inform these efforts has been delayed into 2022. In order to fully implement this recommendation, the Bureau will need to carryout a reexamination with stakeholders on the issues identified in our report as well as identify and report on alternatives as well as legislative proposals as may be appropriate.

Full Report

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