Modernization

Why one government agency seems less than thrilled about Census modernization

Social network, census

The Census Bureau has ambitious plans to save $5 billion by modernizing the 2020 population enumeration, but at least one other agency sees significant downsides.

In the past, Census Bureau workers have had to physically canvas all 11 million census blocks throughout the United States to generate the mailing list for census forms. In the run-up to the 2020 survey, the Bureau hopes to reduce that effort to 25 percent of blocks -- incorporating inter-agency records, third-party data, GPS mapping and aerial imagery for the rest.

For many citizens, perhaps the most striking new wrinkle is that the bureau will not send paper questionnaires to every household. Instead, for the first time, respondents will be able -- and encouraged -- to enter the information online, by computer or even mobile device, if all goes according to plan.

This scale of online surveying will vastly reduce the quantity of paper questionnaires that will be sent, which means fewer deliveries by the U.S. Postal Service.

According to a 2011 Government Accountability Office report, 2010 census mailings generated more than $200 million in USPS revenue. And as a March 14 USPS Office of the Inspector General blog post about the Census Bureau's embrace of online noted, the "Postal Service won't see its revenues from census mailings completely disappear, but they will shrink."

Census hopes that leaning on technology will galvanize response rates by making it more convenient and user-friendly, and projects that 55 percent of respondents will enter their information online.  The USPS blog post, however, raised questions that seem to elicit concerns about the move: "How do you feel about responding to the census online? Do you have security concerns about responding to the census survey digitally? Are there ways the Postal Service could be more involved in the census?  What are you concerns and why?"

The post also included a poll that asked readers, "Do you agree or disagree with the Census Bureau's plans to move its survey online?"  As of 5 p.m. ET on March 16, the poll had attracted 22 votes, split evenly between yeas and nays.

About the Author

Chase Gunter is a staff writer covering civilian agencies, workforce issues, health IT, open data and innovation.

Prior to joining FCW, Gunter reported for the C-Ville Weekly in Charlottesville, Va., and served as a college sports beat writer for the South Boston (Va.) News and Record. He started at FCW as an editorial fellow before joining the team full-time as a reporter.

Gunter is a graduate of the University of Virginia, where his emphases were English, history and media studies.

Click here for previous articles by Gunter, or connect with him on Twitter: @WChaseGunter

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