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Making It Count

The U.S. Census Bureau uses data to shape America’s future

How do you measure America?

Once every 10 years, the U.S. Census Bureau sets out to provide a complete, accurate count of the population and housing in the entire country. That means counting every person once, and in the right place, to provide the federal government with data to better understand and serve the American people.

Since 1790, the Bureau has undertaken this important mission. But this year, the 2020 census will hit a number of milestones. Not only is it the most efficient census ever planned, it’s also the country’s first digital decennial census.

Success for the census relies on America’s participation, but gaining that participation is evolving with each passing decade. From 1950 to 2010, census self-response rates steadily declined, revealing a population with new expectations, preferences and communication methods. The Census Bureau knew it had to catch up.

To navigate this new digital territory, the Census Bureau uses Splunk to take a data-forward approach to measuring America.

Splunk’s dashboards, reports and data visualizations are a critical part of daily workflows at the Bureau, delivering real-time insights to inform how teams as varied as security, IT, application, middleware and senior leadership approach questions, make decisions and turn data into action.

America’s earliest data organization

As the largest civilian undertaking by the federal government, the U.S. Census Bureau faces a herculean task. To count the hundreds of millions of Americans scattered throughout our expansive country, the Bureau must poll dense metropolises and remote regions alike — from the bustling streets of Manhattan to the depths of the Alaskan tundra to island territories like Puerto Rico, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands and American Samoa.

The census must account for every type of community, including prison inmates, university students, hospital patients, the homeless population … the list goes on. Oh, and the Census Bureau must accomplish most of this in only four months.

In 2010, the census counted:
homeless people
people experiencing homelessness
people experiencing homelessness
homeless people
correctrional facilities
adults in correctional facilities
people living in military quarters
homeless people

Our name is synonymous with data, and many organizations, including federal agencies, use our data to make decisions.

Atri Kalluri, Senior Advocate, Decennial Census Response Security and Data Integrity, U.S. Census Bureau
But many people don’t realize how powerful taking the census can be.

Like voting, responding to the census is a fundamental right that helps shape the nation’s future.

Results from the census will:

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Distribute more than $675 billion federal dollars annually to states

Apportion representation among states Apportion representation among states

Apportion representation among states

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Inform federal, tribal, state and local government planning decisions

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Draw congressional and state legislative districts, school districts and voting precincts

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Equip businesses and nonprofits with valuable market data to make important decisions like where to locate

With so much at stake, the Census Bureau relies on Splunk to ensure exceptional quality of data collection and analysis. “Because a lot can change in 10 years, it's critical that we get an accurate count of everyone in the census,” says Stephen Buckner, the Bureau’s assistant director of communications. “If your child is entering elementary school, they won’t be counted again until high school. We must have a good baseline to make important policy and business decisions at the local level.”

If a community is undercounted, it's not a one-year mistake, it's a 10-year mistake.

Stephen Buckner, Assistant Director of Communications, U.S. Census Bureau

Mission-critical evolution

As the country’s first digital census, the 2020 census will allow the Bureau to harness the many benefits that digitization provides, expanding access to hard-to-reach regions, engaging historically undercounted communities and connecting with the population in new, modern, more convenient ways.

By providing digital response options that suit daily lifestyles, the Bureau is enabling the American people to engage with the government in the same ways they engage with their favorite consumer businesses.

Of households in America:
U.S. Census Bureau 2016

We are an organization that relies on the public to help us succeed because if they self-respond, that means we are more successful, because we don't have to spend taxpayer money to follow up with them.

Atri Kalluri, Senior Advocate, Decennial Census Response Security and Data Integrity, U.S. Census Bureau
Managing a complex infrastructure

While embracing digital transformation has helped make operations more efficient, with fewer systems in 2020 than in 2010, the Bureau still has 35 operations and 52 systems spanning the country — which include servers in the cloud, regional offices, a data center in Missouri and countless field devices for door-to-door enumerators.

The 2020 census has:

To support its extensive operations and new digital options, the Bureau relies on Splunk to monitor and optimize its complex environment, unifying dozens of disparate systems and data sources onto a single platform.

“For us to monitor every component — whether network, database or middleware — in an automated way, we had to rely on Splunk,” Kalluri says.

“Before this census, we never had the ability to bring all our data together to help the management team visualize and optimize our processing cycles,” says Subrahmanyam Korisapati, assistant division chief of the Bureau’s Address & Database and Middleware Services division. By providing an easier way to access and analyze the Bureau’s data, Splunk allows teams across the organization to harness these insights for more informed decisions and better outcomes.

Gaining public trust

Data privacy and security are always top priorities for the Census Bureau — and the digital nature of the 2020 census only raises the stakes. “For decades, the Census Bureau has been securely collecting this data,” Kalluri says. “We take confidentiality and privacy very seriously because we know that our success relies on the public continuing to trust us.”

To uphold the rigorous security standards outlined in Title 13 and Title 26 of the U.S. Code, the Census Bureau goes to great lengths to ensure security from every angle — including extensively training employees, encrypting all 52 of its systems, and regularly running database, credentials and network scans. With Splunk at the center of its security operations center, the Census Bureau is now able to proactively identify vulnerabilities, effectively isolate and respond to incidents, and troubleshoot issues faster on a single pane of glass.

Providing a digital option for the 2020 census has also provided new opportunities for the Bureau to partner with public and private-sector organizations to better protect citizen data and prevent fraud. “The ability to monitor that information and detect any kind of fraudulent information,” Buckner says, “is a huge improvement over the mail and paper processes we've had for the last 60 years.”

the Census Bureau to support communities
America’s trust and participation enable the Census Bureau to support communities with necessities like new fire stations, roads and hospitals.
Data-driven decision-making

The fusion center is where much of the magic happens. Powered by the Splunk platform, this cross-functional hub unifies data from the network operations center, security operations center and departments like self-response, quality assurance and field operations. Every day, team members ranging from directors to assistant division chiefs rely on this information to intelligently view and act on data across the organization.

At the core of our fusion center are Splunk’s dashboards and reports, which leadership relies on to know what’s going on and make better decisions.

Atri Kalluri, Senior Advocate, Decennial Census Response Security and Data Integrity, U.S. Census Bureau


“In the fusion center, Splunk gives us visibility into all our operational aspects,” Kalluri says. “We can see concerted efforts to disrupt or break into the system, but also go beyond a security perspective to see the types of responses we’re receiving and which geographic areas they’re coming from. This data allows us to intelligently strategize on which areas are doing well or require more attention, then react based on our advertising campaign.”

Armed with this real-time data, the Bureau is able to engage underrepresented communities like never before. “This year, we’ll be looking at response data in real time to evaluate how we might improve different strategies and tactics to increase awareness and get people to the census,” Buckner says. “If we see a community falling behind, we can then deploy tactics to try to help them catch up in terms of response rates.”


The Census Bureau helps bring data to every decision across local, state and federal government — from building schools to distributing votes in the Electoral College.

Increasing efficiency

In 2010, address listers from the Census Bureau walked every street in America, checking that each address is accounted for in the Bureau’s main database — an effort that required unimaginable amounts of time (and comfortable shoes). The Splunk platform is helping the bureau reduce the amount of door-to-door work, making processes far more efficient by consolidating systems and implementing digital alternatives.

The 2020 census is the most efficient census that we have ever planned, because we are using technology to our advantage.

Atri Kalluri, Senior Advocate, Decennial Census Response Security and Data Integrity, U.S. Census Bureau



For the 2020 census, the Census Bureau has debuted “in-office address canvassing,” in which Bureau experts use GIS technology, satellite imagery and other data to verify the correct address and location for each housing unit. “It’s a huge amount of savings and better use of taxpayer dollars,” Kalluri says.

Compared to 2010:
fewer houses to canvas
fewer door-to-door canvassers
Stand up and be counted

The 2020 census is just beginning — and with tools like Splunk, the Census Bureau can use real-time data to adapt to challenges and pave a new, digital way forward.

But success depends on every American.

If you live in America, this is your opportunity to help build schools, distribute federal funding, influence public policy and improve your community. When you receive your invitation to respond to the 2020 census between March 12 and March 20, complete it online, by phone or by mail to use your voice to shape America’s future.

What can you accomplish with Splunk?