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Alaska Enumeration

Put simply, Alaska is unique.  Given its harsh climate, limited infrastructure, transient population, and the vast distances between communities, the challenge the Bureau faces in this state is truly daunting.  Alaska's estimated 1999 population of 619,500 is spread out over some 586,412 square miles - equivalent to one-fifth the land area of the lower 48 states and twice the size of Texas.  Yet, the population is close to that of the District of Columbia - a city of only 68 square miles. While the state can rightfully boast of several major - and thoroughly modern - urban areas such as Anchorage and Fairbanks, thousands of its residents live in scattered communities that are inaccessible by road.  Travelers to these communities rely on prop-aircraft, utility vehicles - even dogsleds - to reach their destinations.

Monitoring Board staff journeyed to Alaska in late February 2000 to visit the Anchorage LCO and observe the Bureau's Remote Enumeration efforts.  Throughout their visit, the two Board staffers were accompanied by the Seattle RCC Deputy Regional Director, whose zone of responsibility includes Alaska.  In addition, staff had the opportunity to be briefed by Anchorage's LCO manager and other LCO staff.

Bureau operations in Alaska began well in advance of Census Day (April 1, 2000), though all questions have been or will be asked in relation to it.  In fact, Director Kenneth Prewitt enumerated the first American of this year's census on January 19, 2000 in the remote village of Unalakleet.  This special, expanded timetable enables the Bureau to work when weather conditions are most conducive to field operations, and before the change of seasons prompts residents to leave their communities to hunt, fish, or engage in other employment.

All operations in Alaska are run out of the Anchorage Local Census Office (LCO).  One might characterize it as a "super-LCO," given the scope of its responsibilities.  The varied conditions in Alaska compel the LCO to employ three separate enumeration methods and juggle several simultaneous operations.


LCO Facilities

The Anchorage LCO is located in modern facilities in the Federal office building at 222 West 8th Street in Anchorage.  Bureau employees expressed no complaints about space or equipment shortages.  The staff of approximately 120 appear to have the necessary resources at their disposal to conduct successful census.

Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau and Other Cities

Most Alaskans, about 75 percent of the population, will be enumerated under the "standard" census plan-identical to the census procedures used throughout the rest of the United States.   These include areas designated for the Mailout/Mailback procedures, Update/Leave procedures and List/Enumerate Procedures.  Areas of Alaska designated for these standard census procedure include Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau, and their surrounding areas, several other cities such as Cordova, Dillingham, and Palmer, Portage, Seldovia, Sitka and Wasilla, as well as other so-called "hub" cities and communities.

Largest Alaskan Cities Designated For Mailout-Mailback
Total of 5 Cities283,93255

* Total 1990 Alaskan Population: 550,043
Mailout/Mailback-This strategy, used for the majority of city-style addresses in the nation, is planned for the urban and small city areas of Alaska.  Over 50 percent of the population will be enumerated through Mailout/Mailback procedures.  

The census plan in these areas is identical to the Mailout/Mailback strategies used in the rest of the United States.  Census forms are mailed during March 2000 for the April 1 Census Day.  Following the Mailout/Mailback period, Non-Response Follow-Up (NRFU) activities - enumerator visits to each non-responding household - will be used to complete the count in these areas.  The census activities for these areas will be concentrated in the late spring and early summer, accounting for enumeration and NRFU activities.

Update/Leave and List/Enumerate - These strategies will be used in the rural/remote areas that are predominantly close to Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau and in the larger communities throughout the state and along the southeast coast of Alaska.  These strategies will also be used to correct, update or create map-spots for the Master Address File (MAF).
One of the most significant differences between areas designated for Mailout/Mailback and those designated for update/leave or list/enumerate is that the housing units are already listed in the MAF for Mailout/Mailback areas.  In update/leave and in the list/enumerate areas, the enumerator will update the MAF.  In the update/leave areas an enumerator will visit each household.  At that time, the enumerator will update the MAF and leave the census questionnaire.  For the list/enumerate designated areas, an enumerator will identify each housing unit and will then "map-spot" (mark the housing unit on the assignment area maps) and list the housing unit, with a description, on the address register.  At that point, the enumerator will either enumerate, or attempt to enumerate, the household.

Recruiting and Staffing

Aside from some challenges in Barrow, the Anchorage LCO has encountered no significant recruiting difficulties.  In fact, as of February 25, 2000, it stood at 176 percent of its goal.  During the three days Board staff were in the office, they observed a steady stream of job applicants.

Questionnaire Assistance Centers (QACs) and Be Counted Sites

The LCO has located suitable space for 73 Questionnaire Assistance Centers (QAC)  and 5 Be Counted Sites.  Funds to pay 20 FTEs  have been budgeted and the QACs will be manned on a variable shift basis, allowing the 20 FTEs to satisfactorily cover all 73.

The QAC supervisor indicated that a "micro-sized" advertising budget would have a positive effect on QAC traffic. She noted that even a few hundred dollars could buy small advertisements in local "Penny Saver" circulars that would effectively target those most in need of QAC services.

Given time considerations, it is not feasible for the Bureau to institute widespread changes.  However, advertising in circulars seems sensible and the Board recommends the Bureau consider allocating funds for such purposes in 2010.

Hard-to-Enumerate Planning

There are approximately 200-230 remote villages throughout Alaska.  Many of these villages have populations of less than 500. Remote villages are comprised of predominantly Alaska native residents, representing several groups including Aleut, Athabascan, Inupiaq, Northwest Coast Indians, Tlingit and Yupik.  The LCO estimates approximately 10 percent or more of the state's population live in these areas.

The census procedures used throughout most of remote Alaska differ significantly from the census procedures used in the rest of the country.  These procedures are geared specifically to meet the needs of Alaska's Native communities.  Based on the experience of several past censuses, the Bureau allows greater operational freedom at the regional and local census office levels in Alaska.  The result is a flexible and adaptive census operation.

Monitoring Board staff noted that one of the most important facets of remote Alaska enumeration is the experience of the managers.  Both the Area Manager for Urban Field Operations and the Area Manager for Remote Operations worked in Alaska during the 1990 census.  The remote field operation design specifically reflects experience, rather than theoretical objectives.

In order to accommodate the geographic and climactic challenges in Alaska, enumeration for remote Alaska takes place during the winter months before "break-up," or thaw.  Prior to the break-up, frozen lakes and waterways allow access to remote villages that would be otherwise isolated.  Residents of subsistence fishing villages are also more likely to be in the villages at that time.

According to the LCO in Anchorage, enumeration will take place in three waves.

Wave I (January) Southwest Alaska
Wave II (February) Aleutian and Central Alaska
Wave III (March) Far North Alaska

In addition to the unique timing of enumeration, remote Alaskan villages will benefit from a flexible approach to enumeration.  Due to the demographic challenges for enumeration and obtaining a workforce in the villages, enumerators are not required to take the Census Bureau's test for field employment.

King Salmon

Board staff flew with the Deputy Director from Anchorage to King Salmon.  There they met with the local Field Operations Supervisor and the local team leader.  Board staff had the opportunity to observe the final stages of operations in the King Salmon environs before accompanying the local team leader to the Yupik Native Traditional Council.  

At the council center, staff observed the leader caucus with council president Ralph Angasan about the housing unit count in a local activity area (AA).  After discussion and review of the AA address register, Mr. Angasan certified its accuracy by signing the register's cover page.  This local sign-off, known officially as "tribal validation," is unique to the list/enumerate efforts in remote Alaska.  The Bureau instituted the protocol to encourage Native participation in the census and provide an extra level of quality assurance.  Mr. Angasan expressed his appreciation of the consultative relationship, and both the local team leader and the Deputy Director informed Board staff that the program has been an unqualified success.


From King Salmon staff journeyed with the Deputy Director by single-engine prop aircraft to Egegik, a remote village on the Bering Sea with a 90 percent Native population.  In Egegik, staff met with the Native Council President and observed the Census Team Leader during enumeration.  According to list/enumerate guidelines, the enumerator asks the respondent each question and then records the responses in his/her own hand.  Such a method requires that the respondent have a high degree of confidence and comfort with the enumerator, especially if they are being enumerated using the long form.  According to the Deputy Director, enumerators have encountered few difficulties in soliciting the cooperation and trust of respondents.  Staff observations in the village confirmed the Bureau's open and positive relationship with the community.

Aerial Map-Spotting

Before returning to Anchorage, staff went on an aerial map-spotting "ride along" in the Egegik region.  Map-spotting is the process by which field staff verify and update housing unit information on area TIGER maps.  2000 marks the first Census the Bureau has employed airplanes for this purpose, and it seems certain to increase the accuracy of the count.  Board staff participated in the spotting efforts undertaken by the Egegik AA enumerator and the veteran prop-engine pilot contracted by the Bureau to provide air services throughout the Remote Enumeration operation.  In the two hours they were aloft, more than twenty previously unknown housing units were spotted and added to the Bureau's records for follow-up.

The LCO's approach demonstrates the importance of being flexible, without such flexibility it would be difficult to obtain census takers who are residents of their respective villages.  The premium placed on being able to obtain native Alaskan census takers to count their own villages is designed to encourage a trusting relationship and to ensure that the census can take place effectively in these villages.


Overall, the Bureau has established an effective alliance with the leaders of the Alaskan Native community.  One of the first steps toward this end was taken during the past two years when the Bureau invited 500 Native representatives to Anchorage to attend conferences intended to discuss the role of Alaskan Native communities in Census 2000.  This event set the stage for effective follow-up by the LCO's four partnership specialists.

The Board is impressed with the level of cultural sensitivity - key to a successful count - the LCO has shown in its interactions with the Native community.  It has, for example, consulted Native leaders throughout the hiring process and exhibited flexibility and understanding when tragedies - requiring the temporary suspension of enumeration efforts to observe traditional mourning rituals - have stuck communities.  Native leaders have not hesitated to express their satisfaction.  As Nelson Angapak, Vice President of the Alaskan Federation of Natives, put it, "I have to congratulate the Bureau [on its efforts] ... Our working relationship is excellent."

Fortunately, the Bureau's successful partnerships are not limited to the Native community.  The LCO has formed positive relationships with the Anchorage Complete Count Committee (CCC) and the Mayor's office, amongst other entities.  The State Demographer and the Lt. Governor were also cited as important "bridge builders" whose help the Bureau would be hard-pressed to do without.

Congressional Members' Position

The Regional Census Center, the Local Census Office and the Remote Field Operations Team have developed a plan that is targeted and tailored to the needs of Native Alaskan communities.  This will improve the census in these communities.

The villages in Remote Alaska, due to geographic and cultural isolation, share many of the same characteristics of hard-to-count communities throughout the United States.  Yet, there are significant differences in the way that these villages will be enumerated in Census 2000 and the way that other hard-to-count communities will be enumerated.  Because of the ability to be flexible and to accommodate cultural needs, the Regional Census Center, Local Census Office and the Remote Field Operations team for Alaska has a better chance of enumerating Alaska Natives and other remote village residents.  Their plan, demonstrating greater flexibility and regional autonomy than any other area in this decennial, is focused on a census inclusive of the residents and cognizant of the needs unique to Alaskan Native communities.  Hiring enumerators based on the recommendation of tribal leaders, allowing those enumerators to be hired without taking the cumbersome hiring test, and maintaining the involvement of the village throughout the census are unique Alaskan initiatives in Census 2000.

The Congressional Members believe this community-centered approach improves the count in Remote Villages and addresses concerns regarding the undercount of Native Alaskan communities.  Moreover, the Congressional Members believe the Remote Alaska approach may offer important lessons that can be implemented in other hard-to-count communities during Census 2000 and future censuses.

Presidential Members' Position

Across the board, the Bureau is doing an excellent job in Alaska.  By all accounts, the Anchorage LCO has already met, or is on target to meet, the overwhelming majority of its goals.  If, as we believe, the Bureau's efforts to-date in this most challenging environment are any indication, the Presidential Members believe the nation has ample reason to be confident about the prospect of a successful 2000 Census.