2010 census may be forced back to paper

2010 Census: Costs and Risks Must be Closely Monitored

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Problems with implementing handheld mobile computing devices could force the 2010 census back to year 2000-style paper canvassing, a Government Accountability Office official said this week.

“The Bureau could be faced with the remote but daunting possibility of having to revert to the costly, paper-based census used in 2000,” said Brenda Farrell, acting director of strategic issues at GAO. Farrell testified June 6 before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee's Federal Financial Management, Government Information, and International Security Subcommittee.

Farrell said that a 2004 census test run showed that local Census Bureau offices needed additional employees and more room to store the devices. The devices also had reliability problems in past tests. Although the bureau has contracted for a design overhaul of the devices, the new ones will not be ready in time for the 2008 census dress rehearsal, she said.

In her testimony, Farrell warned that the bureau's increased reliance on contract workers could become a problem. She also said the projected cost of the census data capture system has ballooned from $49 million to $238 million.

Farrell's testimony was not the first warning that GAO has issued about the upcoming census. In a report it released May 18, GAO wrote that changes in contract milestones could affect the bureau's ability to develop fully functional systems and a means to evaluate those systems by the dress rehearsal date. The bureau has missed milestones because of delayed contract awards and solicitations changes.

Farrell pointed out that the bureau has no risk mitigation plans in place to address specific challenges, including the need to apportion additional resources to update map files for areas affected by hurricanes Rita and Katrina.

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