IT Problems Put Accuracy of Census at Risk, Say Government Auditors

By Edwin Mora,

Washington D.C. – Information Technology (IT) problems at the U.S. Census Bureau could cause inaccuracies in this year’s constitutionally mandated decennial tabulation of the U.S. population, according to government auditors.

“IT problems place the efficiency and accuracy of Non-Response Follow-Up at risk and final decennial costs remain uncertain,” testified Judith Gordon, the principal assistant inspector general for Audit and Evaluation at the Department of Commerce, which runs the Census Bureau.

The NRFU is the census’ largest operation and involves personally interviewing millions of people nationwide who did not respond to the mailed Census questionnaire.

Robert Goldenkoff, the director of strategic issues for the Government Accountability Office (GAO), told that “an estimated 50 million housing units out of a mail-out universe of about 120 million” will be non-respondents that will require an in-person follow-up to count.

According to the Census Bureau: “As a part of the decennial census operations, the U.S. Census Bureau creates an address list of housing units in the United States, and mails out census forms to most of those housing units. People who do not mail back their census forms are visited by a census interviewer who comes to record their data during a personal interview. This visit is a part of the Non-Response Follow-Up (NRFU) operation.”

Goldenkoff, Gordon, and Arnold Jackson, the associate director for the decennial count at the Census Bureau, testified at a March 25 hearing on the 2010 Census. The hearing was held by the subcommittee on the Census of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

The Census Bureau is specifically having problems with two IT systems. One is the Paper-Based Operational Control System (PBOC), which is an computer system used to manage the information collected during field operations such as NRFU.

The second is Decennial Applicant Personnel and Payroll System (DAPPS), which is the system used to keep track of, and pay, the more than 600,000 temporary federal workers who help conduct the Census’s NFRU field operations.

Last Thursday, the Government Accountability Office released a report authored by Goldenkoff on the Census Bureau’s IT problems entitle, “Data Collection is Under Way, But Reliability of Key Information Technology Systems Remains a Risk.” The report indicated that the government has known about the problem for some time.

The report said that last February, the GAO had testified that “key IT systems — most notably an automated system used to manage field data collection known as the Paper-Based Operations Control System (PBOCS) and a personnel and payroll processing system called the Decennial Applicant Personnel and Payroll System (DAPPS) — were experiencing significant performance issues.” The report documents Goldenkoff’s testimony before the House subcommittee.

The Bureau has been in the process of hiring an estimated 600,000 people to conduct the NRFU operation from May through July 2010 — the interviewers will be trained in April.

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