American Community Survey: Strategic Planning and Portfolio Management in a Federal Program


James Treata, Christine Cordesb, Susan Hostettera

  1. U. S. Census Bureau, Washington, DC, USA
  2. MITRE corporation, McLean, Virginia, USA



The American Community Survey (ACS) program has proactively sought to establish strategic management processes for developing a vision for the program, aligning current and future investments to that vision. This paper provides background on the ACS, a large data collection program at the U.S. Census Bureau, and describes the process the ACS program used to implement a formal strategic planning process and a formal portfolio management (PfM) process. The paper includes key lessons learned and an overview of the planned next steps in completing the implementation of a comprehensive strategic management system.


The U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS) is the largest household survey conducted in the United States, and the only survey that provides estimates for small geographic areas and small population groups (small communities). The survey collects information on social, economic, demographic, and housing characteristics. Federal Agencies use estimates from the survey in determining the allocation of over $400 billion annually. In addition to its Federal Government customers, communities, businesses and the American public utilize ACS estimates.

The survey began as a small research program in the early 1990’s that was focused on demonstrating the feasibility of a monthly survey to provide quality estimates on an annual basis in lieu of once-a-decade effort as part of the decennial census (what was known as the ‘Decennial Long Form’). In 2005, the survey moved from a research program into full implementation, collecting data in every county in the United States and every municipio in Puerto Rico. In December 2010 and May 2011, the ACS accomplished major program milestones with the first release of annual estimates for small geographic areas and small population groups, respectively.

The ACS evolved over time in both design and staffing levels from a research effort to a full production program. The ACS did not begin establishing mature strategic planning and portfolio management (PfM) processes until starting in 2011. Program managers used good management practices from the beginning, but did not always conduct them in a well-documented and consistent manner. After nearly two decades of research and early implementation, many of the original senior management and senior technical experts had left the program, taking with them their vision for the future of the ACS program. The remaining staff of highly skilled and specialized individuals continued to meet the program’s operational challenges, but they were under-resourced and had been through a number of transitions that had affected staff morale.

In January 2011, a new ACS program manager brought an outsider’s perspective to the needs of the program and began to assess the status of the program. He determined that the ACS program had several challenges:


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Editor’s note: Second Editions are previously published papers that have continued relevance in today’s project management world, or which were originally published in conference proceedings or in a language other than English. Original publication acknowledged; authors retain copyright. This paper was originally presented at the 1st Annual University of Maryland Project Management Symposium in College Park, Maryland, USA and included in the conference Proceedings in June 2014. It is republished here with permission of the author and the Project Management Center for Excellence at the University of Maryland.

About the Authors

pmwj27-oct2014-American-AUTHOR1 TREATJames Treatflag-usa

U.S. Census Bureau

Washington, DC, USA

James Treat is Chief of the American Community Survey Office at the U.S. Census Bureau in Washington, DC, USA. He is a sixteen-year veteran of managing risk, developing schedules, and planning for large-scale Federal Government programs. He is currently the program manager for the American Community Survey (ACS) at the U.S. Census Bureau.  He is passionate about providing staff with the resources, direction and support needed to achieve the program’s strategic objectives. Mr. Treat can be contacted at [email protected]

pmwj27-oct2014-American-AUTHOR2 CORDESChristine Cordesflag-usa


McLean, Virginia, USA

Christine Cordes is an accomplished strategic planning professional with seventeen years of leadership experience in domestic and international strategy development and execution, portfolio management and change management. Christine began her career as a Market Analyst in the Aerospace and Defense Industry, first with Airbus Industrie of North America, then with BAE Systems’ North American Headquarters and the company’s global headquarters’ in London. She then transitioned to Strategic Consulting with the Palladium Group, the consulting group founded by the authors of the Balanced Scorecard book series, before joining MITRE. At MITRE, Christine has supported the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey in their implementation of Strategic Planning, Portfolio Management, Governance and most recently, Performance Management. She is a Group Leader in the K81A Business Strategy department and co-chair of the Enterprise Strategy & Transformation Technical Center’s Group Leader Community of Practice. Christine received her undergraduate degree from Mercer University and her Masters in Organizational Management from George Washington University.    Christine can be contacted at [email protected]

pmwj27-oct2014-American-AUTHOR3 HOSTETTERSusan Hostetterflag-usa

U.S. Census Bureau

Washington, DC, USA

Susan Hostetter, PMP is a Project Manager in the American Community Survey Office at the U.S. Census Bureau in Washington, DC, USA. She has spent twenty plus years at the U.S Census Bureau. Her current assignment is standing-up the American Community Survey’s program management office. She is a card-carrying data geek, but in the last five years has found her calling in the project management field. Susan can be contacted at [email protected].