IT component expected to reach $300M to $400M

The Census Bureau plans to spend $300 million to $400 million on technology to support the 2000 census and expects to release solicitations for services and equipment this summer.

To conduct the 2000 census, the Census Bureau will need everything from laptop computers and modems for data collection to a large data capture and imaging system that will convert 1 billion pages of forms into computer-readable files in 100 days.

Arnold Jackson, associate director for information technology at Census, said the bureau has yet to decide if it will award a single contract for the products and services or work with multiple vendors. It is possible, he said, the bureau will work with two firms during a one-year design phase and then have a down-select.

In any event, the bureau hopes to release a solicitation in the June time frame and, in 1997, select a contractor or contractors to perform the work. This year the bureau must make a decision on what technology to use for the 2000 census in time for 1998 dress rehearsals.

Although the bureau worked with contractors on the 1990 census and does so on a small scale now, Jackson said this time the approach is more integrated. "There will be fewer contracts covering more tasks," he said. "It's intelligent contracting. We broke down tasks and grouped them into one or two big [categories]."

`More Committed Now'

Robert Marx, associate director for the decennial census, said Census "is more committed now" to relying on contractors to manage facilities and provide technology for the next census.

"We learned that capabilities exist out there that do what we're trying to do. Ten years ago I'm not sure they were there," he said. In particular, scanning and intelligent recognition and optical character recognition have advanced, Marx said. "The USPS and the IRS use it, so we don't have to break new ground."

Reed Phillips, vice president of business development at CACI Inc., said the 2000 census could offer many opportunities for vendors because the bureau is relying heavily on outsourcing and contractors. CACI will put together a team as soon as it finds out if there will be an all-encompassing umbrella contract or more than one contract, he said.

"We'll have to see...how they define that before we put together a team," Phillips said. "We may need vendors with particular expertise in telecommunications, for example, if there is an umbrella contract."

Phillips, a former information resources management official at the Commerce Department, added that the bureau appears further behind in its planning than it did for the 1990 census and questioned whether a request for proposals will be out in June. "I don't think [Census] has a solidified plan yet," he said.

Census is relying heavily on technology to help it achieve its goals of conducting a less expensive and more accurate head count. The 1990 census missed about 4 million people and cost about $2.5 billion to conduct.

"The 2000 census plan capitalizes on the capability of information technology to reach people quickly and [efficiently]," said Ron Brown, secretary of Commerce, at last week's 2000 census kickoff.

Commerce's inspector general has criticized Census in the past for being behind schedule in its systems acquisition planning. Congress has been pressuring the bureau to come up with a more accurate count than it did six years ago.

Frank DeGeorge, inspector general at Commerce, said, "Conceptually an integrated contract is a good idea, but we haven't seen actual plans on this."

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