IG concerned about Census' address collection

The Census Bureau must improve quality control over its address database or risk a miscount in the 2010 census, the Commerce Department's inspector general has found.

The IG said incomplete software development prevented the bureau from testing technology upgrades in this year's Census Dress Rehearsal, a comprehensive test of the census' field capabilities.

The rehearsal – which the bureau is wrapping up – is the last major test of the bureau's information technology before the 2010 census.

“Technology problems prevented [the Census Bureau] from collecting reliable data to assess and improve the procedures before 2010,” the IG stated in a recent report.

According to the report, census enumerators encountered problems downloading address data onto handheld computers during this year’s rehearsal. Automated tracking reports on the progress of the operation also were inaccurate.

The bureau previously had problems making accurate maps with its Master Address File, a database containing more than 175 million U.S. business and residential addresses. The IG said in 2000 that file contained millions of duplicate addresses.

To improve the system, the bureau awarded a contract to Harris worth more than $200 million in 2002. Harris also holds the contract for the Field Data Collection Automation portion of the 2010 census and was responsible for the development of the handheld computers used in address canvassing.

The IG said Census was not able to thoroughly test the upgraded database in the dress rehearsal because some capabilities, such as the ability to analyze address accuracy, were incomplete.

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