Census opens data capture center for 2000 census

The Census Bureau and several private-sector partners today held a grand opening ceremony for a data capture center in Maryland, which will be used to organize and store demographic information from an estimated 40 million questionnaires for the 2000 census.

Calling the groundbreaking "historic...a turning point in the history of the census," Census Director Kenneth Prewitt said that when future historians write about the census, "one of the chapters will certainly be [about the] data capture strategy."

The cavernous center is one of four facilities nationwide that the bureau will use to handle the estimated 120 million questionnaires that Americans fill out for the census.

The Lockheed Martin Corp. system, called Data Capture System 2000, integrates scanners and computers to quickly move information on the questionnaires from paper to servers to Census Bureau databases, where the census information will be stored indefinitely. The system marks the first time the bureau has used scanners to harvest census data.

Lockheed Martin system architects and engineers designed the system into 51 independent but linked clusters, each outfitted with scanners, servers and workstations. The network of clusters keeps track of each returned questionnaire from the moment the envelopes containing the questionnaires are opened until the paper questionnaires themselves are put into storage.

The bureau hired TRW Inc. to build and manage three of the centers and to renovate a permanent facility in Indiana to serve as a temporary data center. TRW contracted with Computer Sciences Corp. to hire, train and manage about 2,500 employees who will work in the Maryland center. The bureau also hired Lockheed Martin to design the software that will be used to parse and store the demographic data on the questionnaires.

The three-year, roughly $228 million contract marks the first time the bureau has outsourced a major census.

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