Lawmakers want to know census' cost

The Census Bureau has improved its management of the field data collection portion of the 2010 census, Government Accountability Office officials said today. However, House members continued to express concern about the program’s cost.

Harris, the Field Data Collection Automation (FDCA) contractor, will submit its final cost proposal July 15. Originally, Harris estimated FDCA would cost $1.3 billion, but a mid-May evaluation by Mitre lowered that estimate to $726 million.

“The difference of [$500 million to $600 million] is mind-boggling and makes no sense,” said David Powner, GAO's director of information technology management issues, at a hearing held by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Powner said the Harris estimate was based on different assumptions than the more current Mitre estimate. Those assumptions, particularly in software development and common support, most likely caused the drop in the estimated cost, he added.

“We need a final estimate [from Harris] to reconcile those differences,” Powner said.

Census Director Steve Murdock said the bureau cannot make a final estimate until Harris completes the final cost proposal. He said the bureau expects to have a final cost estimate by mid-August.

Census results “have implications for congressional representation and for billions of dollars in federal funding,” said Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), the committee’s chairman. “We cannot afford to get this wrong.”

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