GAO: Census budget soars because sampling counted out

Most of the $1.7 billion in additional funding requested by the Census Bureau to conduct the 2000 census will help pay for an increased workload that includes data processing activities, reduced employee productivity and increased advertising, the General Accounting Office recently found.

In January, the Supreme Court ruled that the Census Bureau could not use statistical sampling to calculate the population used to apportion seats in the House of Representatives. But when the bureau created its 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, which are less expensive than the traditional counting methods, would result in a more accurate head count than the 1990 census, which missed more than 8 million people.

Following the court ruling, the bureau submitted in June a new budget for the 2000 census that asked for $1.7 billion more than the initial request. About $136 million of the increase would pay for automated data processing and telecommunications support. 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.

GAO concluded that about $1.6 billion of the increase is related to the bureau's inability to use statistical sampling.

Without sampling, GAO estimates Census will have to count 16 million more households than originally anticipated. Also, Census introduced new quality-control programs designed to address coverage errors that statistical estimation was designed to fix. Census will have to pay for "additional salaries, benefits, travel, data processing, infrastructure and supplies," GAO found.

Specifically, GAO said Census is asking for:

$3.5 million more for its online American FactFinder system, which tabulates and disseminates census results electronically

$18.5 million more for FTS 2000 long-distance telephone costs to support field infrastructure work

$39.5 million for additional equipment, faxes and other supplies for temporary local census offices.

The bureau also plans to hire an additional 570,000 temporary workers. This increase is because of an increase in workload and a reduction of worker productivity. The bureau assumes workers will be more careful to avoid mistakes because they will be reviewed more closely. Census also wants an increase of $72 million for advertising.

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