Todd Hughes, a survey implementation expert and methodologist who helped lead national data collection efforts for the U.S. Census Bureau, will join UCLA on Sept. 12 as the new director of the California Health Interview Survey (CHIS), the nation’s largest state health survey. Conducted by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research since 2001, CHIS interviews of thousands of Californians on a continuous basis to provide valuable health data to inform the efforts of organizations and policymakers at the local, state, national and international level.

Hughes started his career two decades ago knocking on doors as a Census Bureau field worker. He rose to become the assistant division chief of the American Community Survey, the largest ongoing household survey in the nation.

“Todd brings the kind of cradle-to-grave survey research experience CHIS needs to maintain its status as one of the nation’s leading health surveys,” said Ninez Ponce, CHIS principal investigator and professor in the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health. “And he also brings a strong track record of innovation in both research and methods that will be critical to our efforts to keep CHIS at the cutting edge.”

CHIS is particularly known for its large sample of many traditionally under-surveyed racial, ethnic and sexual minority groups. It is also nationally recognized for AskCHIS and AskCHIS Neighborhood Edition, which provide health experts, journalists and ordinary people with easy access to California health statistics, from the statewide level to individual ZIP codes.

“I’ve been very impressed by the way CHIS works to democratize data and make it possible for all Californians to understand their health and the health of their communities,” said Hughes. “And I’ve been impressed by the strong research mindset of the survey and their innovative efforts to improve data quality.”

Hughes was a junior at Brigham Young University in 1996 when he first worked for the Census Bureau conducting face-to-face interviews for various surveys.

“That experience was very helpful for me,” Hughes said. “In order to understand the quality of data a survey collects from households, you must understand the nature of the interactions that take place between a survey interviewer and the person being interviewed, and I’m glad I experienced that firsthand for two years.”

After graduating from college, Hughes moved into a supervisory position at the Census Bureau, overseeing a staff of up to 110 field representatives engaged in data collection for the Current Population Survey and other surveys in the 10-state Denver region.

He later moved to the American Community Survey (ACS), which at the time was a new survey, still in the demonstration stage and being conducted in just one-third of U.S. counties. Hughes, who first served as a Washington D.C.-based survey liaison for 12 regional ACS offices and later as a supervisory statistician in charge of nationwide face-to-face and telephone data collection, played a key role in implementing the ACS on a nationwide basis.

Hughes also successfully worked on the Census Bureau’s behalf to sustain federal resources for survey research during lean budgetary times. In 2011 he worked with the White House Office of Management and Budget and supported efforts with lawmakers on Capitol Hill to justify a $40 million increase of the ACS budget to expand the survey’s research sample and, consequently, the quality of the survey’s data.

"It was a big accomplishment for the survey, and I was proud to be a part of that effort,” Hughes said.

In 2008 he was promoted to assistant division chief for the ACS, a role in which he helped oversee a 3.5-million household survey with an annual program budget of as much as $250 million. During his tenure, he pioneered new efforts to increase survey response rates, including an internet response option that was estimated to save the survey $9 million in data-collection costs, as well as changes in ACS mail methodology and adaptive design principles on follow-up methods.

Hughes will be the fourth director of CHIS since its establishment 15 years ago by renowned UCLA scholar and founding director E. Richard Brown.

“We were seeking someone who could provide operational excellence in every facet of survey work,” said Gerald Kominski, director of the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research. “Todd fits the bill. He has that very rare combination of a detailed understanding of survey research paired with the big-picture skills that will help secure Rick Brown’s vision of CHIS as a state-based survey with national significance.”

Hughes holds a master's certificate in project management from the George Washington University School of Business and Public Management and a bachelor of science in statistics from Brigham Young University. 

This story was originally published by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research.