Census Bureau

The U.S. Treasury has always been a place where people could find something green, but this time the term is not referring to money. The U.S. Treasury building has obtained a green environmental designation, probably the oldest federal building to earn one. It has reduced its operating costs by $3.5 million annually as a result.

If the Treasury, built first in 1836, can go green and utilize smarter systems management, then most of the rest of government should be relatively easy, according to experts in the field. All it takes is a little ingenuity, a great deal of effort and a desire. And a presidential executive order helps too. Keep reading →

The Centers for Disease Control has spearheaded a program available to other agencies that automatically updates website content, making it easier and more cost-effective to keep information current.

The content syndication tool eliminates the cumbersome and time-consuming practice of emailing updates and changing website content manually. Keep reading →

While the Obama administration and the federal government have worked to set up ways to share geospatial data between agencies, a new report from the Government Accountability Office finds that lack of coordination between departments is resulting in costly duplication and millions of wasted tax dollars.

While the GAO report said the extent of duplication in geospatial investments is unknown, it said billions of dollars are being spent across the federal government on duplicative geospatial investments.

Further, “many mission-critical applications, such as those used to respond to natural disasters-floods, hurricanes, and fires-depend on geospatial information to protect lives and property. Thus, it is important that the data acquired to support these critical functions be done in a timely and coordinated manner, with minimal duplication,” the report concluded.

The government has tried to coordinate the use of geographically-related data by setting up the Federal Geographic Data Committee, under the direction of the Office of Management and Budget. One of the FGCD’s tasks was to create a metadata standard to mark geospatial information and a clearinghouse to store and disseminate it.

But the GAO found that agencies that collect and use such data are not using the clearinghouse to identify geospatial investments, coordinate activities and avoid duplication. According to the GAO, the FGCD has not planned or launched an approach that allows agencies to manage and more effectively share geospatial data to avoid costly redundancies.

Additionally, the report said the FGCD’s master plan is missing key elements, such as performance measurements for many of its defined goals.

The three departments responsible for implementing and managing geospatial information government-wide – Commerce, Transportation and Interior – have only put some of the steps needed for national geospatial data sharing into effect.

Among the three departments, the only major goal that they all achieved was to make metadata available on the clearinghouse. Only the Interior Department has designated a senior official to oversee sharing geospatial information with other departments and agencies. None of the three departments has launched a strategy to share data and only the Commerce Department has partially established a metadata policy.

OMB, meanwhile, does not have complete and reliable information to identify duplication in agency investments, the report said.

One example of the lack of coordination cited by the report is that the Census Bureau, the USGS and the Department of Homeland Security are independently acquiring road data, which is reported to have wasted millions of tax dollars.

“Unless OMB, the FGCD and federal departments and agencies decide that coordinating geospatial investments is a priority, the situation is likely to continue,” the report said.

To improve coordination and reduce duplication, the GAO report recommended that the FGCD develop a national strategy to coordinate geospatial information, federal agencies follow federal guidelines to manage geospatial investments and that the OMB develop a mechanism to identify and report on geospatial investments.

The OMB and two of the departments have agreed with the GAO’s recommendations while one department has neither agreed or disagreed with the findings, the report said.

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Tax evasion or illegal drug smuggling are often not observable events for federal law enforcement officials. But to effectively manage federal law enforcement activities, officials and policy-makers in charge must have an idea of what is happening.

The challenge of how to measure the unobserved events is one faced by many federal leaders. But there are actually five methods that can assist government performance analysts in estimating basic information on unobserved events.
This article originally appeared as part of a new report from the IBM Center for the Business of Government, “Five Methods for Measuring Unobserved Events: A Case Study of Federal Law Enforcement,” by John Whitley.


The Need for a Statistical Framework

Law enforcement can face tough measurement challenges, but the fields of statistics and econometrics have developed a framework for dealing with them and it is useful to begin this part with a brief overview of that framework. All violations of a federal law can be thought of as elements of a prospective data population.

The scope of the population can be defined in various ways — e.g., immigrants illegally entering the United States in a calendar year, or the illegal drugs smuggled across the southwest land border between the United States and Mexico.

To effectively manage their operations, federal law enforcement officials need insight into these unobserved violations; i.e., they need to know the properties or parameters of this population of data, such as its size and distribution

Law enforcement officials are generally able to observe subsets, or samples, of this population. The most obvious is the subset of violators apprehended or arrested. Detailed documentation of apprehensions or arrests is generally retained in administrative records. In addition, there may be other available sources of data, often partial and incomplete, that shed light on various aspects of the population, e.g., survey data on drug usage or the footprints in the desert of illegal border-crossers.

Actions can also be taken to increase the available data, such as increasing the size of the observable subset, drawing additional samples from the population, or generating a sample of new data that mimics the characteristics of the population of interest. The methods described here use such samples to make estimates of the total population.

When using a sample to estimate parameters of the underlying (unobserved) population, an important statistical property is whether the estimate is biased. Bias occurs when the estimate systematically diverges from the true value of the population parameter being estimated.

An unbiased and therefore preferred estimate does not systematically diverge from the true value. One primary cause of bias is a poor sample that is not randomly selected. A sample is random when every element of the population has an equal probability of being included. Examples of non-random samples may include:

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Jonny Goldstein, a veteran media producer, artist, trainer, and speaker, created the above visual notes for the recent Digital Government: The Transformative Power of Communications, captured and disseminated fittingly via Instagram.

The tweet: “Check out @jonnygoldstein visual notes from (the) #GovD12 event on Digital Government: the power of communications!” captured the sentiment of many that attended this excellent event, which featured the book Little Bets, by Peter Sims and a series of government agency success stories including the following:

  • Small Business Administration – As a result of a campaign focused on government contracting, visits to the SBA government contracting page have jumped 72% since the campaign began — and a 255% increase in traffic to entry-level courses like Government Contracting 101.
  • U.S. Census Bureau – A national campaign to encourage the public to participate in the 2010 Census saved $1.87 billion in taxpayer money. Census also saw more than 175,000 visits to its FAQs, helping to increase the number of subscribers the agency can reach directly.
  • Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services – In just eight months, CMS has seen more than 850,000 visits to its FAQs, helping to drive an increase of more than 80,000 subscribers to over 2,400 topics.
  • United States National Guard Bureau – NGB was recognized for its excellence in digital communications. It recently won an award for proactively communicating through multiple communication channels to reach the largest possible audience establishing more than 5 million impressions through a dynamic news widget, and communicating its mission and message to 22,000+ blog viewers.
The purpose of this year’s event was to address concrete steps agencies can take to fulfill the objectives of the White House’s Digital Government Strategy:

  • to enable the American people to access high-quality digital government information and services;
  • to insure that government adjusts to a new digital world; and
  • to unlock the power of government data to spur innovation across the nation and improve the quality of services for the American people.
The event’s sponsors provided a Digital Government Strategy checklist as follows: Keep reading →

The Census Bureau is planning for the first time next month to conduct the Economic Census of more than four million businesses using its own web-based system instead of relying solely on paper forms – a lesson for every federal agency looking to cut costs.

It will be the largest survey conducted online by the Census Bureau since it developed its web-based Centurion system in 2009. Until now, the Census has used Centurion for 50 smaller surveys from the monthly wholesale trade survey to the quarterly plant capacity survey. Keep reading →

Government technology officials are working urgently to enable federal employees to work using their own mobile devices. That’s in spite of a thicket of management issues and security concerns that continue to hamper their efforts.

Though the path to adoption is proving cumbersome, the rationale is simple: Bring your own device (BYOD) programs are seen as a unique opportunity to reduce agency information technology costs. Keep reading →

This headline above – from a Commerce Department apps challenge hosted on Challenge.gov – attracted my attention. So I decided to take the challenge to develop apps using the 2010 Census Summary File 1 and the American Community Survey (five-year data). Keep reading →

The proposed realignment of federal agencies announced by the Obama administration would be more extensive than first announced last Friday, affecting the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Institute of Standards and Technology among other agencies, according to a report today by Federal Computer Week.

Office of Management and Budget’s Jeffrey Zients, who earlier today was named OMB acting director, told reporters during a briefing Jan. 13, that there would be a second phase of the proposed reorganization. In the initial announcement, the White House proposed a realignment that called for merging six trade agencies into a new, cabinet-level agency to promote export and business development. Keep reading →

The President has been clear that every federal dollar spent must generate a positive return for the American people and that as we tackle our long term fiscal challenges, we must root out waste in government. One area that we know we can do better in is with the thousands of duplicative data centers that sprung up across the last decade.
This article originally appeared as a White House blog post.
These data centers – some as big as a football field, others as small as a closet – represent billions in wasted capital that could be better used to improve upon critical services for American taxpayers. By closing data centers, agencies are on track to save taxpayers billions of dollars by cutting spending on wasteful, underutilized hardware, software and operations as well as enhance our cybersecurity; shrink our energy and real estate footprints; and take advantage of transformational technologies like cloud computing to make government work better for our nation’s families. Keep reading →

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