This story was updated on June 3, 2014.
The U.S. Census Bureau has opened a 3,000-square-foot office in Silver Spring and plans to hire about 1,000 temporary workers, focusing on local hires from Montgomery County and Washington, D.C.
The bureau is testing new methods and technologies being considered to tabulate populations and other data for the 2020 Census, in hopes of saving taxpayers up to $5 billion, said John H. Thompson, director of the Census Bureau. He and other Census officials spoke about the effort during a news conference Tuesday at the new office on Colesville Road near the Silver Spring Metro station.
The agency hopes to get as much as 50 percent of response questionnaires done via electronic means such as the Internet and email, reducing the number completed by paper or over the phone, Thompson said. “We know there will be a certain number of people who will still want paper questionnaires, or will want to call, and we will accommodate them,” he said.
When people don’t respond, field workers go door-to-door to obtain responses, which is the most expensive method of collecting data, said Frank Vitrano, the bureau’s associate director for the 2020 Census. One part of the test that will be conducted out of Silver Spring is giving field workers smartphones to transmit data they receive electronically, he said.
The operation to tabulate the 2010 Census required about 500 offices nationally and 550,000 employees in the field. Officials hope to reduce those numbers to as few as 150 offices and 200,000 field employees to obtain the cost savings, Thompson said.
The agency is also reviewing whether to use information already provided to the government to help gather data on households that do not initially respond to questionnaires, as well as looking at new methods to ensure address lists are accurate, he said.
“It’s a tremendous opportunity to re-engineer how we conduct the Census,” Thompson said.
The Census data is important to local government entities since it helps determines how much federal money is allocated each year for schools, roads, hospitals and other amenities.
The jobs for the test, expected to last through September, will be both full-time and part-time. They include enumerators, crew leaders and assistants. Workers will survey about 200,000 housing units in Montgomery County and Washington, D.C., as those areas are “an ideal testing ground because of their growing and diverse populations,” Thompson said.
A few managers and employees have worked in the Silver Spring office since it opened in April. Eventually, there should be about 50 employees in the office, said Fernando E. Armstrong, director of the Census Bureau’s Philadelphia regional office, which covers an area that includes Maryland. Interest in the jobs has been high, with applications from people living outside Montgomery and Washington, D.C., such as Prince George’s County, he said.
“We plan to focus our hiring efforts on our target area [Montgomery and D.C.], and go outside the area if we need to,” Armstrong said. “We want to hire people who come from the local neighborhoods and are comfortable in those neighborhoods.”
The agency ran a smaller test last year in Philadelphia that included reviewing software, but this will be a much larger test effort, Thompson said.
The hourly salaries for the available jobs range from $14 to $21.50. Field operations supervisors are expected to begin work by mid-June, while crew leaders, assistants and enumerators are not expected to start work until at least July.
Information on hiring is available at 1-888-480-1639.
Internet data collection was not offered for the 2010 Census, but the agency has used that method for the American Community Survey and other surveys for the past few years.
For the 2010 Census effort, a local office was formed in Rockville in 2009 that hired about 1,000 field workers and others. It is too early to say if an office will open in Montgomery County for the 2020 effort, Armstrong said.
A decision on the final design of the 2020 Census is scheduled to be made by late 2015. The bureau is expected to start opening offices and hiring managers and other staff in 2017.
Besides the effort to reduce temporary offices, the agency has reduced its number of permanent regional offices nationwide from 12 to six. The Philadelphia region includes Maryland, Delaware, Washington, D.C., Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia.