OIG assesses Census challenges
Two reports recently issued by the Office of the Inspector General, one the latest quarterly report on the 2010 Census, released last month, and one on the top management challenges facing the Commerce Department, released this month, shed new light on potential issues and trends to watch with this year’s Census.
First, the December report acknowledges that the Census Bureau is moving forward with its important operations for the year, including the completion of address canvassing in July and and group quarters validation in October.
The address canvassing, while completed successfully last year, was $88 million — almost 25 percent — over budget. In order to make up for this overrun, the Census Bureau is now revising its budget for non-response follow up.
One major concern addressed in both reports is the Census Bureau’s ability to successfully develop its paper based operations control system (PBOCS).
After the Census Bureau abandon plans for handheld computers to deal with non-response follow-up, the Bureau took over the development of the PBOCS; this means, the report says, that the system will have to be completed much more quickly:
As a result of the highly compressed schedule, the system will undergo less testing than desirable. And once deployed, there is no margin for error. Hundreds of thousands of NRFU enumerators must be able to receive and submit completed assignments, and the bureau must be able to monitor progress. Documented contingency plans currently do not exist, and in the event PBOCS experiences serious operational problems or failures, the decennial schedule would be seriously jeopardized and costs would surely increase. Successful PBOCS development, testing, and implementation represent one of the most significant decennial challenges facing the Department.
This month’s report also addresses the rising cost of the Census and the need to develop cost-effective strategies this year to prevent the necessary funding from skyrocketing in the 2020 Census. According to the report, the price of conducting the Census has doubled every decade since 1970 — meaning the 2020 Census could cost almost $30 billion unless new strategies are developed this time around. The report describes the Census Bureau as an “insular organization that eschews open dialogue with outside parties and even its own regional offices,” saying that outside input must be sought in order to create new, cost-effective strategies.
The reports address other Census-related risks being discussed by the Census Bureau, such as what to do in the event of an H1N1 influenza outbreak. The Census Bureau’s Risk Review Board began drafting plans for H1N1 outbreaks in October.