GAO raps Census’ handheld plans

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GAO Report

Still a few bugs

Problems encountered during tests of handheld computers included:

  • Telecommunication and database problems that prevented devices from communicating with the data center.

  • Transmission of extraneous data, such as column and row headings.

  • Addition of an unnecessary step in the data transmission process.


  • Source: Government Accountability Office

    The handheld computers the Census Bureau plans to use to collect information for the 2010 census need a closer look, according to a recent Government Accountability Office report. GAO wants bureau officials to establish criteria to determine whether the handheld computers and software are capable of performing the tasks needed for the decennial census.

    The bureau plans to rely heavily on handheld devices to verify addresses. However, because of escalating costs, the Commerce Department, the Census Bureau’s parent department, said in March that it wanted to redesign the bureau’s automation effort.

    Census has been shifting its plans to use handhelds for some time. Earlier, the bureau decided not to use them for post-census interviews, in which census workers go door-to-door to people who did not respond to the census by mail. Instead the bureau chose to use its traditional paper forms for that part of the process, which is expected to add as much as $3 billion to the total cost of the census.

    During a dress rehearsal, help-desk logs revealed that census workers most frequently had issues with transmitting data, collecting mapping coordinates and working with large blocks of information. They also reported incidents of the devices freezing during operation. 

    About the Author

    Doug Beizer is a staff writer for Federal Computer Week.

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