Former official: Census handhelds could save millions

Handheld devices used by Census Bureau field workers will only get limited use during the 2010 Census, but have the potential to save millions during the 2020 count, former Census Bureau Director Louis Kincannon said today during a phone briefing.

Handhelds will only be used for address canvassing in the 2010 census, said Kincannon, who served under former President George W. Bush. Home addresses are confirmed and discovered during address canvassing.

Using the handhelds when following up at homes that did not return census questionnaires could potentially save millions of dollars, Kincannon said. The list of homes that need a follow-up visit can be continually updated by using handheld computers, he said, adding that with the paper-based system that will be used in 2010, workers often visit the homes of people who already sent in their forms.

“Using handhelds means the people out in the field get continual updates about late receipts,” Kincannon said. “We wasted and enormous amount of money in earlier censuses because of the inability to update the assignments for [the] non-response follow-up workers.”

Sending workers to a home unnecessarily is expensive because it creates duplicate records and it annoys respondents, Kincannon said.

How the handhelds are used in the future will partly be determined how well they work with address canvassing. During the initial testing of the handhelds, workers had problems accessing a help desk to solve problems, but that problem was resolved, he said.

About the Author

Doug Beizer is a staff writer for Federal Computer Week.

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