Census bureau lagging on geographic coding of residences, IG says

In planning for the 2020 Census, the bureau needs to find a better way to consistently update its geographic codes for millions of residences, according to a report from the Commerce Department Office of Inspector General.

The Census Bureau maintains a Master Address File with a complete list of all residences, along with geographic codes signifying mapped locations for all those homes. The files and codes are linked in a central master address database and it supposed to be continually updated to maintain accuracy.

However, as of June 2011, there were about 3.5 million residences in the master file without geographic coding, and that number is likely to rise during the decade as it did for the last census, the May 10 report stated.

The census bureau needs an improved method to maintain updates and assess accuracy of the master address file, the inspector general recommended.

“The 2010 geographic initiative’s efforts to produce an adequate measure to assess (master address database) quality were unsuccessful. In addition, the program’s goal of updating address and map information from tribal, state, county, and local government partners was not fully realized,” the report concluded. “Both of these goals must be met to implement a 2020 decennial census address-canvassing operation with reduced costs.”

If the improvements are not made, the bureau will again have to play catch-up at the end of the decade, and rely on expensive field operations, the report added.

The report recommended five changes, including developing measures to assess the quality of the address list, working with other government agencies to create a uniform national address list and developing a method to consistently reduce the number of ungeocoded records.

Census Bureau officials agreed with four of the five recommendations.

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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