Case Study: Portfolio Management in the 2020 Census Program



Susan Hostetter and Sherri Norris

U.S. Census Bureau

Washington, DC, USA


Executive Summary

The Decennial Census is the United States oldest and most comprehensive source of information about the U.S. population.  Most people know that the Census Bureau manages this very large, complex, multi-billion-dollar program and are familiar with the program and its purpose but they don’t understand that, while the 2020 Census will be conducted on April 1 2020, the planning, staging and operations of the Census happen over a timespan of more than 10 years. This case study will focus on the Portfolio Management structure that the 2020 Census Program has in place to select and manage the many investments needed to conduct such a large and complex operation. It will profile the types of investments, the governance and processes used to select, initialize and manage those investments and the investment and budget challenges affecting the 2020 Census Program.

In this paper, we will present:

  • The current structure of 2020 Census Program portfolio management
  • Our 2020 Census Portfolio Management questionnaire, a tool designed to gather information about 2020 Census portfolio management programs
  • Feedback from professionals involved with 2020 Census portfolio management processes

Key findings include:

  • Portfolio management is being actively practiced by the 2020 Census Program.
  • Decisions are being made by the 2020 Census Program governance structure.
  • Key processes are at different level of maturity.
  • Overall, stakeholders believe that portfolio management processes work reasonably well.


In this paper, we describe the current 2020 Census Program portfolio management processes and the maturity of those processes.  Figure 1 shows governance structure for the 2020 Census Program. From its charter (U.S. Census Bureau, 2018), the 2020 Census Portfolio Management Governing Board (PMGB) provides key oversight and decision-making support for the 2020 Census Program. It oversees 2020 Census Program investments and escalates matters to the Executive Steering Committee (ESC) when appropriate or when a specified threshold is met for cost, risk, or impact has been reached. Currently, most 2020 Census Program Governance Meetings meet weekly, but as 2020 operations ramp up meeting frequency will increase with additional operations-focused meetings added. Weinberg (2012), discusses 2010 census management challenges, many of which help inform 2020. In our interview discussions and other research, we learned that a 2020 census program management plan, focused on the operational phase, will document procedures and provide information on how decisions are made and will be resolved regarding the 2020 Census. Once out of the approval phase, it will document key project management processes including risk management, schedule management, issue management, and change management.


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Author’s note: This paper is released to inform interested parties of ongoing operations and to encourage discussion of work in progress. Any views expressed on operational issues are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the U.S. Census Bureau.

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 5th Annual University of Maryland PM Symposium in May 2018.  It is republished here with the permission of the authors and conference organizers.

How to cite this paper: Hostetter, S. & Norris, S. (2018). Case Study: Portfolio Management in the 2020 Census Program; Proceedings of the 5th Annual University of Maryland Project Management Symposium, College Park, Maryland, USA in May 2018; republished in the PM World Journal, Vol. VII, Issue VIII – August.  Available online at https://pmworldjournal.net/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/pmwj73-Aug2018-Hostetter-Norris-portfolio-management-in-2020-census-program.pdf


About the Authors

Susan Hostetter

Washington, DC, USA



Susan Hostetter
, PMP, is a project management professional with over twenty years’ experience with Federal Statistical programs. Ms. Hostetter has been instrumental in standing up and managing risk management, project management, portfolio management, strategic planning, and performance management processes for large survey and Census programs. She has a Master’s Degree in Management with a Project Management emphasis from the University of Maryland’s University College, a Master’s Certificate in Program Management from George Washington University and a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration from Mary Baldwin University. Susan can be reached at [email protected].


Sherri Norris

Washington, DC, USA



Sherri Norris
is a project management and statistical professional with over twenty years of public policy, project management and operations experience. Ms. Norris has coordinated and implemented schedule, requirements, performance management, and governance processes for survey and Census Programs. She has a Public Policy Master’s Degree in Justice: Law and Society from American University, a Master’s Certificate in Program Management from George Washington University and a Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice from University of Delaware. Sherri can be reached at [email protected].