Census launches pact to outsource data centers

The Census Bureau last month released a statement of work for the second part of a system that will for the first time electronically capture data for the 2000 census.

With the Data Capture Services Contract (DCSC) the bureau is looking for a contractor that will acquire and manage a number of data processing centers each of which will house a new imaging system that will convert paper census forms into digital format. The contractor also will hire train and manage employees who will operate the system.

Earlier this year the bureau awarded Lockheed Martin Corp. and its team a $49 million contract to build the imaging systems under a contract called the Data Capture System 2000 (DCS 2000). The imaging systems will digitally capture 1.5 billion pages of census forms and convert them into a computer-readable format. DCSC marks the first time Census has outsourced the management of the data centers said Robert Marx associate director for the decennial census at the bureau. In previous censuses the bureau set up temporary processing offices to manage the returned census forms.

"For the 2000 census the bureau decided to contract out for this service " Marx said. "The contractor will be expected to use the hardware software and overall processing system to be developed [under the] recently awarded contract to Lockheed Martin."

Data capture will happen much faster than before because of new technology so fewer centers will be needed Marx said. In 1990 the bureau operated seven processing centers including one in its Jeffersonville Ind. permanent processing site. For the 2000 census the bureau expects to operate only four.

Data Reduction"This is part of the overall re-engineering of the 2000 census" to make it cost less and be more efficient Marx said.

The contractor that is awarded DCSC will be responsible for checking in each returned form using DCS 2000 equipment removing the forms from the envelopes and preparing the forms for scanning. The forms will be scanned with the image passing through optical mark recognition (OMR) and optical character recognition (OCR) engines which will convert the image data into ASCII format. If the OMR/OCR engines cannot recognize the data the contractor will key in the information directly from paper.

The challenge will be to process all the census forms quickly. If the workload increases the DCSC contractor must increase the space and number of employees needed to operate the DCS 2000 equipment. Most of the 70 million forms will be returned between March 17 2000 and March 31 2000.

Reed Phillips vice president of business development at CACI Inc. which is a subcontractor on the DCS 2000 contract said the company is interested in pursuing DCSC. Electronic Data Systems Corp. also a subcontractor under the DCS 2000 contract will bid as a prime with Lockheed Martin and CACI as subcontractors.

"We're going to keep our same team together that bid DCS 2000 " Phillips said. "So much of the work is interrelated and I think we can build a strong case."

Census plans to release the request for proposals for DCSC in August and make an award in January 1998.

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