2010 Census: Basic Design Has Potential, but Remaining Challenges Need Prompt Resolution: GAO-05-9

Dalton, Patricia A.
January 2005
GAO Reports;1/12/2005, p1
Government Document
A rigorous testing and evaluation program is a critical component of the census planning process because it helps the U.S. Census Bureau (Bureau) assess activities that show promise for a more cost-effective head count. The Bureau conducted a field test in 2004, and we were asked to (1) assess the soundness of the test design and the extent to which the Bureau implemented it consistent with its plans, (2) review the quality of the Bureau's information technology (IT) security practices, and (3) identify initial lessons learned from conducting the test and their implications for future tests and the 2010 Census. The Bureau's design for the 2004 census test addressed important components of a sound study, and the Bureau generally implemented the test as planned. For example, the Bureau clearly identified its research objectives, developed research questions that supported those objectives, and developed evaluation plans for each of the test's 11 research questions. The initial results of the test suggest that while certain new procedures show promise for improving the cost-effectiveness of the census, the Bureau will have to first address a number of problems that could jeopardize a successful head count. For example, enumerators had little trouble using hand held computers (HHC) to collect household data and remove late mail returns. The computers could reduce the Bureau's reliance on paper questionnaires and maps and thus save money. The test results also suggest that certain refinements the Bureau made to its procedures for counting dormitories, nursing homes, and other "group quarters" could help prevent the miscounting of this population group. Other aspects of the test did not go as smoothly. For example, security practices for the Bureau's IT systems had weaknesses; the HHCs had problems transmitting data; questionnaire items designed to improve coverage and better capture race/ethnicity confused respondents; enumerators sometimes deviated from prescribed enumeration procedures; and certain features of the test were not fully operational at the time of the test, which hampered the Bureau from fully gauging their performance. With few testing opportunities remaining, it will be important for (1) the Bureau to find the source of these problems, devise cost-effective solutions, and integrate refinements before the next field test scheduled for 2006, and (2) Congress to monitor the Bureau's progress in resolving these issues.


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