Census makes final check on system

The Census Bureau will test its four scanning centers next week for the final time before making its computer system operational on March 6, and government officials are reasonably certain that the bugs have been worked out.

General Accounting Office associate director J. Christopher Mihm assured a House Census subcommittee on Feb. 15 that the Data Capture System centers in Baltimore, Jeffersonville, In.; Pomona, Ca.; and Phoenix are ready to begin receiving data on time.

A final test of the system will be conducted Feb. 22-25, when all four centers will scan in questionnaires to produce an electronic image by optically reading handwritten marks and writings. It is the first time the Census Bureau is using this sophisticated technique to count the population.

But a GAO report completed in December found that the center still had problems and could face a "huge challenge" in getting ready for the 2000 census count.

But Mihm told the subcommittee that the final snags had been worked out.

He said the Census Bureau has made "considerable progress" in fixing last-minute problems. The system must be up and running by mid-March, when questionnaires are mailed to the public.

Although the scanning system will cut down the workload for Census employees, long forms distributed to about 17 million households will have to be run through the scanner twice in order to capture all the data, Mihm said.

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