TRW wins $187M data center contract

With the 2000 census about two years away, the Census Bureau awarded late last month a $187 million services contract to TRW Inc. to build the centers and operate the equipment that will read more than 1 billion pages of census forms.

With the 2000 census about two years away, the Census Bureau awarded late last month a $187 million services contract to TRW Inc. to build the centers and operate the equipment that will read more than 1 billion pages of census forms.

The Data Capture Services Contract (DCSC) represents the first time the Census Bureau has outsourced the management of the data centers, opting before to do the work itself.

"For the 1990 census we did it ourselves, but after that we decided not to compete with industry," said Bill Starr, the contracting officer's technical representative at the Census Bureau. "It's been the direction of the Census Bureau that we would contract this out because industry can do it, and we didn't have the resources to do it ourselves."

Under the DCSC contract, TRW will design, build and equip three data centers, which includes installing local-area networks and videoconferencing systems, as well as hire and train about 6,000 temporary workers to staff the centers for four months.

TRW's task is to recruit, hire and train employees and manage the operations of the data centers, Starr said. TRW will train workers to scan census forms to convert the data into digital format so that it can be transmitted back to Census Bureau headquarters for tabulation.

Each center will house a Data Capture System 2000 developed by Lockheed Martin Corp. under a separate contract awarded in March last year. TRW will train temporary workers on how to use DCS 2000, which will scan forms using optical mark recognition and optical character recognition engines and then convert the images to ASCII text. If the images cannot be recognized by the engines, workers will manually key the data into the system.

Completed census forms will start arriving at the data centers soon after they are sent out in March 2000, and all the data-capture activities must be completed by July 1.

A report must be sent to the president by the end of the year. The final figures are used to allocate the number of seats for each state in the House of Representatives as well as funding for local programs.

Work under DCSC will begin right away. "Our first task is to select the cities and sites where the centers will be located," said Hank Beebe, the program manager for DCSC at TRW. "We will put facilities under lease this summer and then build them out to make them appropriate for the [job]. The government will then deliver the [DCS 2000 system], and we will conduct a dry run and acceptance of the system through fall and winter 1999. We will start hiring after the first of the year 2000."

Beebe said there could be as many as 15,000 people interviewed for the temporary positions that need to be filled. TRW plans to look to universities, small and disadvantaged businesses, Welfare to Work programs and other sources to fill the need.

Edward Spar, executive director of the Council of Professional Associations on Federal Statistics, said the approach the Census Bureau is taking on outsourcing DCSC should save money in the long run. "It's an excellent strategy to rely on people [who] have expertise in a specific area," Spar said. "This way the government doesn't get involved in the overhead."

TRW's teammates include Computer Sciences Corp., DynCorp, National Computer Systems, Troy Systems and Burnsen McDonald. A team led by Electronic Data Systems Corp. was the other bidder on the contract.

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