My Two Census

Formerly the non-partisan watchdog of the 2010 US Census, and currently an opinion blog that covers all things political, media, foreign policy, globalization, and culture…but sometimes returning to its census/demographics roots.

Census Bureau not ready for 2010 Count!

The Washington Post Federal Eye blog reports, “The Eye attended two congressional hearings on the Census on Thursday, and along with colleague Steve Vogel reports that “The accuracy of the 2010 Census remains threatened by computer problems and untested methods the Census Bureau plans to use for conducting the count, according to testimony yesterday from the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

Sadly, but not unsurprisingly, the news is grim:

At the end of this month, the Census Bureau is expected to begin the first operational phase – setting up a massive address list – for the upcoming 2010 Census. And the next constitutionally-mandated decennial count of the nation’s population is itself a little more than one year away. Two Congressional committees held hearings Thursday to determine if the Census Bureau is ready.

The verdict, after hearings in both the House and the Senate subcommittees with direct jurisdiction over the Census, is that depending on who you talk to, the glass is either half-full, or half-empty.

On the one hand, there is Thomas Mesenbourg, the acting director of the Census, who told the House Census subcommittee that everything is essentially fine, and the problems of the census are all being taken care of:

I can report we are on the way to a successful enumeration. A complete and accurate address list is the cornerstone of a successful census. Throughout the decade, we regularly update the list we had in Census 2000. In 2007, we invited tribal, state, and local governments to review our address lists for accuracy and completeness. Address canvassing, the first activity of the 2010 Census, starts on March 30th, and runs through July of 2009.

The GAO’s comments are the latest to highlight difficulties for the census, which now costs $14 billion and has been beset by partisan bickering. Disagreements over the handling of the census were part of the reason GOP Sen. Judd Gregg, President Barack Obama’s pick as commerce secretary, withdrew his name last month.

However, the Government Accountability Office has other thoughts on the matter. Robert Goldenkoff heads up Strategic Issues for the GAO, and issued a report yesterday saying the Census Bureau is playing beat the clock, with very little margin for error:

The bureau has made commendable progress in rolling out key components of the census, and has strengthened certain risk management efforts. Still, the census remains high risk because a dress rehearsal of all census operations that was planned for 2008 was curtailed. As a result, activities, including some that will be used for the first time in the Census were not tested in concert with one another, or under census-like conditions.

And the GAO’s David Powner, who analyzes Information Technology, has an even harsher assessment of the Census bureau’s IT.

“Our report contains 10 detailed recommendations that the bureau has agreed to address,” he testified before both committees. ” For example, our investigation shows that not only were there not plans for this testing, but there was not even a master list or inventory of the interfaces. Not having such basic information is unacceptable.”

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