Census came in $1.6B under budget, Locke says

Savings due to high response rate and no disasters

The 2010 U.S. census came in $1.6 billion below budget thanks to a higher-than-expected mail response rate and because money set aside for disaster contingencies was not needed, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said today.

The census costs were 22 percent below this year’s operations budget of $7.3 billion, according to a Commerce Department news release. The savings included $800 million in unused contingency funds, $650 million in unused funds for followup door-to-door visits to people who did not respond by mail, and $150 million in other savings, the release said.

However, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said those savings were “deceptive.” Issa cited a 2006 estimate of $11.3 billion for total anticipated 2010 census costs, and he said today that total multiyear census costs of about $14.4 billion have exceeded that amount.

“This is precisely the smoke-and-mirrors budget gimmickry that the American people have come to expect from the federal government,” Issa said. “It is ironic that an agency in existence to do simple arithmetic would try to peddle such incomplete and deceptive figures to cover up for its waste of an estimated $3 billion of taxpayers’ money.”

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The 2010 census achieved a 72 percent mail response rate from the public, meaning that 72 out of 100 households contacted by mail returned their census forms by mail, the department said. For those who did not respond, follow-up door-to-door visits were made.

“Before this census began, experts inside and outside the government predicted that longstanding operational and fiscal problems at the U.S. Census Bureau would doom the 2010 count to cost overruns and diminished participation by the American people,” Locke said in a speech. “That did not happen.”

“The 2010 census achieved a mail-back response rate of 72 percent, which defied the predictions of experts, matched the 2000 response rate, and reversed a multidecade decline in mail response,” he said.

Locke credited success to a re-engineered address list, development of a short-form 10-question questionnaire, and daily troubleshooting meetings to oversee the Census Bureau’s field operations control system – a software system used to manage the work of the 565,000 census takers conducting multiple field operations.

The bureau also sent out additional forms to those who did not initially respond, revamped its public outreach and advertising, and increased partnerships with community organizations, which also contributed to the high response rate, Locke said.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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