Census acknowledges data gap that led to faulty fast ferry numbers

The U.S. Census Bureau has acknowledged a data gap in one of its online applications that led Kitsap Transit to publish untrue statements about local commuter trends.

While fact checking campaign materials for Kitsap Transit’s fast ferry sales tax proposal, the Kitsap Sun discovered Census’ OnTheMap employment mapping tool doesn’t display civilian Department of Defense jobs, even though documentation for the application stated those jobs were included.

The omission was readily apparent in Bremerton, where defense jobs represent a large segment of the labor market.

Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility employed about 11,000 workers in 2014, the most recent year OnTheMap has data for. But OnTheMap showed only 218 jobs in the area of the shipyard.

The Sun contacted the Census Bureau regarding the discrepancy on Oct. 12. At first, bureau representatives were unable to confirm whether shipyard jobs were included in OnTheMap data. Then on Friday, Census provided this statement:

“The U.S. Census Bureau’s OnTheMap tool does not include civilian employees of the Department of Defense and Armed Forces.

“We have updated the application documentation for the tool to reflect this exclusion. We are committed to providing data that gives an accurate snapshot of our nation’s communities.”

Without the disclaimer regarding civilian defense jobs, OnTheMap presented a skewed snapshot of many communities like Kitsap with a strong military presence. The Department of Defense employs nearly 800,000 civilians, according to its careers website.

By relying on the incomplete Census data for its research, Kitsap Transit drew the incorrect conclusion that more Kitsap residents work in Seattle than work in Bremerton — a talking point that helped bolster the case for fast ferry service across Puget Sound.

Kitsap Transit removed fast ferry materials that referenced the claim after the discrepancy in OnTheMap data was brought to light.

We don’t know how many other local public agencies have used OnTheMap for planning.

Puget Sound Regional Council spokesman Rick Olson said council staff do not use OnTheMap for research, but do recommend the tool to people looking for a quick overview of commuter trends.

Including civilian defense jobs in OnTheMap would be a useful service to the public. Users of the application will at least now be warned a large gap exists in the data.

2 thoughts on “Census acknowledges data gap that led to faulty fast ferry numbers

  1. Great research Tad! I have often wondered how accurate Census data is, especially when local government uses the data to base regulatory decisions on…..especially stormwater management. do you know that if you have a lot outside of an Urban Growth Boundary, you might assume that you are in the Rural area and thus you would be allowed to build up to 10,000 sf of new impervious surface for your home and driveway without an expensive permit from KC DCD, right? WRONG! You may reside in a “Census Urbanized Area”, and you are restricted to 5000 sf without an expensive engineered permit and infrastructure…..so just how accurate is this mapping? The cost to build your house may increase by $20,000-$30,000+ depending on where this map is hatched.
    See the map here:

    1. So are we to believe that KT didn’t recognize the error in the data prior to publishing it? Seems a bit strange to me that KT would just forget about the 11 or 12,000 DOD employees.

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