Davis: Census didn't heed warnings

Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) will probe the Census Bureau's alleged failure to manage its contracts and employees in the wake of a decision to abandon the use of handheld devices in the 2010 census, a development that cost information technology contractor Harris an estimated $600 million.

In a letter today, Davis accused the bureau of not listening to warnings from Congress, the Government Accountability Office and Harris regarding the expanding requirements for Census’ Field Data Collection Automation (FDCA) program.

Officials from the bureau, Harris and GAO will testify about the status of the decennial census at a hearing April 9 before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, of which Davis is the ranking member.

Census Director Steve Murdock and Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez told a subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee on April 3 that census takers would conduct follow-up surveys for the 2010 count by hand on paper, instead of using handheld devices. Census employees will use the handhelds only for address canvassing, a much smaller task.

The canvassing and follow-up surveys are part of the FDCA portion of the census. Harris holds the main contract for FDCA, which was awarded as a five-year, $595 million contract in early 2006. The value has since risen to $1.3 billion. However, Gutierrez said that if the handhelds were used for the follow-up surveys, Harris would have received $1.9 billion.

The change to paper bumps the cost of the 2010 census by $2.2 billion to $3 billion, to an estimated total of $14.5 billion.

Murdock and Gutierrez testified that they were not willing to take an additional risk in the upcoming census by using the handheld devices for follow-up surveys.

However, Davis said Census’ problems with the contract demonstrated a classic expansion in requirements.

“They sought bids on a Volkswagen Beetle and then expected to get a Cadillac Escalade,” Davis said.

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