Census seeks more IT funds for 2000 head count

Legally blocked from using sampling in the 2000 census to apportion congressional seats, the Census Bureau last week asked Congress for an increase of millions of dollars to beef up information technology programs it plans to use to support the national head count.

The increase, which is part of a larger $1.7 billion request that the White House plans to submit to Congress this week, would amend the fiscal 2000 appropriations bill that will fund Census. The increase would include an additional $141 million to keep data processing centers open longer to process census forms, $219 million for data collection operations - including door-to-door follow-up visits - and $268 million to beef up the data collection infrastructure, which includes more local census offices.

Without the additional funding, Census would not have the necessary staff, infrastructure, office space, data collection and processing capability, materials or advertising needed to conduct a successful census, Census officials told Congress last week.

When Census created a budget for the 2000 census, it had planned to use sampling methods to count residents in areas that have been traditionally difficult to enumerate, such as in inner cities. The bureau said sampling methods would result in a more accurate head count, a need highlighted because the 1990 census missed more than 8 million people. Congress uses the count to apportion House seats, draw congressional districts and distribute federal funds.

But in January, the Supreme Court ruled the sampling plan illegal for apportionment purposes, forcing Census to go back to its traditional - and more expensive - method of sending census forms to all households and sending enumerators door to door to count residents who have not returned the forms.

Census will need some of the additional money to support computer systems used to scan forms and tabulate answers. Some of the money will pay for adding equipment such as scanners and servers, called clusters, to the Data Capture System 2000. DCS 2000 is an imaging system that will scan census forms using optical mark recognition and optical character recognition engines and then convert the images to ASCII text.

The extra clusters are needed to help process the additional 23 million census forms and questionnaires that Census expects will arrive at the data capture centers as a result of the court ruling.

"The good thing is we have a final plan of how to conduct the census," said Michael Longini, chief of the decennial systems and contracts management office at Census. "[Vendors] know what they have to build; the major requirements shouldn't change."

The equipment, software licenses and telecommunications infrastructure for Census headquarters and the National Proc-essing Center must be expanded to manage the increased data processing and data transmission requirements. Some of the extra money will support building and automating an additional 44 local census offices - bringing the total to 520 offices - and linking the offices to about 12 temporary Regional Census Centers, which manage field operations.

Adjusting to the more traditional census should not be an issue for TRW Inc., said Hank Beebe, project manager for the Data Capture Services Contract at TRW, which will design, build and equip three data centers and hire and train thousands of temporary workers to staff the centers. "It really doesn't matter if we need to run operations another 30 days," he said. Adding more clusters to DCS 2000 "shouldn't make a bit of difference from our perspective."

It is unclear just how much of the additional money will go specifically toward information technology because the figures have not been broken down in greater detail, said Alan Balutis, deputy chief information officer at the Commerce Department. Census is expected to provide additional details as soon as Congress considers the request, he said.

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