Census to modernize TIGER

The Census Bureau last month finalized an agreement with Environmental Systems Research Institute Inc. (ESRI) to modernize a mammoth geographical database that the bureau hopes will result in a more accurate count of the U.S. population for the 2000 census.

For years the bureau has been criticized for undercounting the total population of the United States especially undercounting minorities. Part of the problem has been the cumbersome Topographically Integrated Geographic Encoding and Referencing database.

TIGER is a storehouse for a detailed map of the United States that lays out every street city district school boundary and governmental unit and assigns houses farms and businesses to a census block. The system allows each address to be referenced on a map and not just on a massive list.

The home-grown database which was created about 12 years ago runs on legacy systems that cannot be easily accessed by Census cartographers and geographers. Only one of about 80 programmers in the Census division that oversees TIGER has the expertise to retrieve information from the database and must be called on when data is needed.

"Right now only a very highly trained programmer can get at TIGER data " said Jack George assistant division chief for geoprocessing at the bureau.

The TIGER upgrade will free a programmer to do other work and will allow cartographers and geographers to have direct access to the database to answer questions more quickly.

The change is an important piece of the bureau's effort to create a more accurate census said Jerry Davis a geography professor at San Francisco State University. "I applaud their efforts to make TIGER more accessible and accurate " he said.

Under a cooperative research and development agreement ESRI based in Redlands Calif. will move TIGER to an easier-to-use Unix or desktop platform.

ESRI also will develop a product to distribute data contained in TIGER to companies state and local governments and the public. That product could be a browsable CD-ROM said David Beddoe national account manager for ESRI. Private industry uses TIGER information to create specialized maps to market products and services. Municipal planners use TIGER data to improve 911 emergency services.

"The idea here was to make [TIGER data] much more readily available to the general public " George said. The CD could be sold through software retailers. The revenue would be kept by ESRI which received no funds from the bureau to upgrade TIGER. The agreement will let the bureau improve its database while giving ESRI valuable insight into how the agency works opening the possibility for future deals and income.

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