Census budget could soar in anticipation of dress rehearsal

The Bush administration has proposed a major increase in funding for the Census Bureau as the agency prepares to do a live test of its information technology systems in the next year.

The bureau could receive $1.23 billion under the administration’s fiscal 2008 proposed budget, up from the $824 million operating budget that the bureau worked with after an August 2007 budget cut by Congress.

Of the proposed funding, $325 million is apportioned to the agency’s decennial census program. The biggest chunk of that money — $281 million — would be spent to support several tests of handheld computers that census takers will use to collect data and to support the bureau's secure networks and Global Positioning System.

The 2008 dress rehearsal will be a simulated live test that will include all the technology that will be used in the 2010 Census. The bureau had problems with its handheld computers and GPS units in the 2004 and 2006 dress rehearsals, leading the Government Accountability Office to warn that census-takers in 2010 could be forced to go back to recording information on paper.

But the bureau may have dodged a bullet. Harris, the bureau’s primary contractor, unveiled 1,400 new handheld computers last month that will be tested in the dress rehearsal this spring.

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