Census embraces the Internet

The Commerce Department's Census Bureau has released a solicitation for an interactive system to permit employees and the general public to request access and manipulate census data over the Internet.~

~This is one of the first major efforts by a "large government information producer to re-engineer its information dissemination program" to depend on the Internet as its basic delivery vehicle according to J. Timothy Sprehe president of Sprehe Information Management Associates. The interactive program will deliver Census data to the public faster easier and less expensively than ever before he said.~

The $30 million Data Access and Dissemination System (DADS) will unite all Census data within a single system of more than 2 terabytes when it goes live in the spring of 2000. The DADS production system will provide a fully functional user-friendly system for accessing Census data and products from the bureau's intranet and the World Wide Web.~

In addition to providing standard products such as 2000 Census results economic census and American Community Survey findings DADS will allow users to create customized reports on-line based upon a combination of Census data sets. Today users must submit a special tabulation order to the bureau to receive a customized report a process that can take months.~

"With DADS the users would be able to specify on-line the specific areas they want and DADS would" tabulate it within minutes or hours and deliver it on-line said Robert Marx associate director for the decennial census. The bureau still would charge to process requests but it is expected to be less expensive than the current method.~

DADS also will allow people to extract previously unavailable specific data. Instead of purchasing a printed report on a whole state for example DADS will let users extract information on a specific city.~The Internet already is used to distribute Census data. The Census home page receives 1 million hits per month and that number will rise to 1 million per week soon said Arnold Jackson associate director for information technology at Census.~

"I believe we can continue to build a following out there " Jackson said. "The Internet has demonstrated that we can reach millions of people. There is the potential to change the way we get information to people."~The challenge for Census Sprehe said is the sheer size of the databases to be included in DADS. This likely will pose problems in information retrieval and data processing. There are also policy issues - such as pricing disclosure avoidance data archiving and security - that need to be resolved.~

According to the solicitation Census will work with one vendor to develop two prototype systems. Then a final production system will be selected that system will go live in time to disseminate 2000 census data sets.~

The first production system is being developed in-house and will be tested internally on a limited basis this fall.~

The bureau expects to award a contract in January 1997. It will consist of a one-year base period with eight one-year renewal options.

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