Census to spend $300M on handhelds

Census Bureau officials plan to issue a request for proposals in the coming months for a contract to equip between 500,000 and 600,000 census counters with handheld computers for the 2010 head count.

Arnold Jackson, the assistant director for the decennial census, said bureau officials have been meeting with vendors for more than a year to talk about their needs for the biggest high-tech census they have ever attempted. The draft RFP for the Field Data Collection Automation contract is expected to be issued in April, and the final one in June, he said. It could be worth at least $300 million.

"Rather than using pencil and paper, we hope to use handheld automated computers with mapping capability," Jackson said.

Officials have not decided whether the devices would use modems or wireless technology to transmit encrypted data into the system, Jackson said.

Jackson said he anticipated getting 15 to 20 bids for the proposal that would include software, help-desk services and logistical support. He said Census officials are looking for a solution that is performance- and solution-based.

In 2004, Census officials conducted a test with 1,100 handheld units deployed in New York and Georgia as part of their plan to modernize the field automation process, Jackson said.

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