Handhelds helped Census stay on track, GAO says

The process of verifying addresses to prepare for the 2010 Census finished ahead of schedule thanks in large part to handheld computers, a GAO report finds.

Verifying addresses to prepare for the 2010 census finished ahead of schedule thanks in large part to handheld computers used by the Census Bureau's temporary workers, according to Government Accountability Office report.

Testing and improvements made to the handhelds before address canvassing were also important factors in completing the address verification process ahead of time, according to the report issued Oct. 21.

Promptly resolving technical problems and lower than expected employee turnover also made it possible to finish address canvassing ahead of schedule, the report states.

At the start of address canvassing, the bureau had a list of 141.8 million housing units and canvassers added around 17 million addresses and marked about 21 million for deletion, according to the report.

Canvassers identified about 4.5 million duplicate addresses, 1.2 million nonresidential addresses, and about 690,000 addresses that were uninhabitable structures, GAO said.

Address canvassing improves the accuracy of the bureau’s master address file that serves as the source of addresses for mailing and delivering census forms, and for physically locating the addresses for nonresponse follow-up visits, according to the bureau.

Although address canvassing did finish on time, the bureau spent $88 million more to do the address canvassing than the original $356 million budget, an overrun of 25 percent, according to the report.

Poor planning and incorrect assumptions led to the cost overruns, said Census Bureau Director Robert Groves told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s Information Policy, Census, and National Archives Subcommittee on Oct. 21. Some cost overruns occurred because the Census officials overestimated how quickly certain work could be performed, he said.

Meanwhile, the bureau has problems keeping the census on schedule and budget, Groves said.

“There are a number of external events that could lead to delays or operational problems, such as a major hurricane, a widespread outbreak of the H1N1 [swine] flu, or a major, last-minute design change imposed upon the program,” he said.


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