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Updated Friday, December 28, 2012 at 03:31 PM

Census to close its office in Seattle

By Lornet Turnbull
Seattle Times staff reporter

After 50 years, the U.S. Census Bureau on Friday will close its regional office here, along with offices in five other U.S. cities, as part of a digital realignment of the agency.

Most of the 45 permanent workers in the office, located in Seattle, have either retired or found other employment. Three people were laid off, census officials said.

The Seattle-area regional office was one of 12 the bureau has operated since the early 1960s.

Its more than 500 enumerators in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Alaska and Northern California worked out of their homes to collect data for surveys ranging from the decennial count to the monthly unemployment survey. Their jobs will not change as part of the realignment, but will be consolidated under the Census's regional office in Los Angeles.

"We undertook this alignment to take advantage of the technology available to us while preserving the quality of our data collection activity in the field," said Thomas Mesenbourg, the Census Bureau's acting director.

"In the current era of modern technology we are able to do more with less."

Other offices being closed as part of the realignment are in Boston, Charlotte, Dallas, Detroit and Kansas City. The functions are being consolidated into the census' six remaining regional offices in Atlanta, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, New York and Philadelphia.

The realignment is part of the digital transformation of the Census Bureau — moving from a bricks-and-mortar model to one that uses more modern survey practices. It is expected to save the agency an estimated $15 million to $18 million annually, following a record outlay for the 2010 census of $13 billion.

Earlier this month, for example, the bureau announced it will begin giving U.S. households the option of responding via the Internet to its American Community Survey. The ongoing questionnaire that replaced the decennial long form survey, the ACS asks households for wide-ranging details from education and income to disabilities, language use and commute times.

Households selected to participate in the survey will receive a letter in the mail with instructions about how to log in to a secure website and complete the survey online.

If those selected to participate do not use the online option, the bureau will send them a paper questionnaire, or contact them by phone and eventually in person to obtain answers.

The Census Bureau also will add a new series of questions on computer and Internet usage to the survey, with the information it collects becoming available beginning in 2014.

Lornet Turnbull: 206-464-2420 or lturnbull@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @turnbullL.


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