Census system captures GAO praise

GAO correspondence on data capture operations

The General Accounting Office has given the U.S. Census Bureau top grades

for its data scanning operations in the 2000 decennial count, noting that

the bureau is meeting deadlines and goals for accuracy.

In a letter to the House Government Reform Committee's Census Subcommittee

dated Sept. 29, GAO praised the bureau's two-pronged plan to capture household

data for the census:

1. The bureau's "first pass" of the census forms scanned only the data

needed to determine the reapportionment of seats in the House of Representatives.

That information will be released at the end of December and will affect

the redistricting of every congressional seat.

2. The second pass involves capturing and storing data about the social,

economic and housing status of a sample of households. That information

will be used in a wide variety of ways, from the planning of government

services to the development of housing and shopping centers. That information

will be released in 2001.

"We found that the bureau has made good progress on first-pass data

capture operations," GAO said. "The bureau met its milestone for completing

its processing of questionnaires that households mailed back, and it finished

processing of questionnaires completed by enumerators ahead of schedule."

The bureau's data capture system, which was designed and run by Lockheed

Martin Corp., electronically gathers data from census forms. GAO noted that

the system "has exceeded its key performance goals, such as optical character

recognition accuracy in support of first-pass operations."

GAO also noted that the contractor is ahead of schedule in modifying

the data capture system for the second pass.

At four data capture centers — in Baltimore; Phoenix; Pomona, Calif.;

and Jeffersonville, Ind. — the data capture system creates digital images

of completed census forms, optically reads the responses on the forms, converts

the data to files and sends them to Census headquarters in Suitland, Md.,

for analysis.

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