I have written several times about the upcoming 2010 U.S. census, to be conducted as required by the U.S. Constitution. In the April 05, 2006, newsletter, I wrote about the planned use of handheld computers to "help revolutionize how census information is collected." I also wrote, "For the 2010 Census, the Census Bureau plans to use automated systems to quickly capture information from interviews. That is designed to reduce the need for paper-based processing, improve efficiency and accuracy, and reduce costs."
Today the Census Bureau performed an about-face. Handheld computers are out, paper is in. And âreduced costs?â Well, hardly...
In 2006, the Census Bureau awarded a $595 million contract to Harris Corp. to develop more than 525,000 handheld computers that enumerators would use to collect data from Americans who did not send in their census forms. These handhelds would replace the millions of costly paper forms and maps that enumerators must carry when going door to door to visit Americans who did not mail their census forms. You can read more about that in my 2006 article at http://blog.eogn.com/eastmans_online_genealogy/2006/04/2010_census_to_.html.
Since awarding the contract, the project has experienced constant setbacks, including changing system requirements that led to increased costs and missed deadlines. Reports by the Government Accountability Office, the department's inspector general, and Mitre Corp. all issued warnings that the handhelds were at risk of not being ready by 2010 and may not work as planned.
Now Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez gave testimony to the House Appropriations Committee on Commerce, Justice and Science. He said, âI am here today because the Field Data Collection Automation project has experienced significant schedule, performance and cost issues. A lack of effective communication with one of our key contractors has significantly contributed to the challenges.â
In his statement, Gutierrez called the situation with the handhelds âunacceptable.â
How do we resolve this quandary? The Commerce Department, parent organization of the Census Bureau, has created a backup plan that involves a lot of paper, hundreds of additional temporary employees, and a jump in expenditures of an additional $2.2 billion to perhaps $3 billion through fiscal year 2013. That will bring the total cost of the 2010 census to between $13.7 billion and $14.5 billion.
Not all of the extra expenditure is because of the issues with handheld computers, according to Gutierrez. He reports there are numerous other unexpected expenses affecting the bottom line.
So much for the Census Bureau's 2006 plan to "reduce the need for paper-based processing, improve efficiency and accuracy, and reduce costs." Oh well, it's only taxpayers' dollars.
You can read more at http://www.nextgov.com/nextgov/ng_20080403_9574.php.