Census Still Struggling With IT Problems That May Affect Count’s Accuracy

April 29, 2010 - 7:21 PM
The U.S. Census Bureau is still having problems with its computer system that handles the data for households that did not return a census form and must be interviewed in person.

This Oct. 2003 photo, supplied by the University of Michigan, shows University of Michigan Professor Robert M. Groves, selected by President Barack Obama to be the next census director. (AP Photo/U of Mich.,Paul Jaronski)

(CNSNews.com) – The U.S. Census Bureau is still having problems with its computer system that handles the data for households that did not return a census form. However, the Census Bureau director said the system has successfully printed out the assignments for the enumerators who will conduct in-person interviews with households that did not mail in their forms.
 
“We continue to struggle with the software system called the paper-based operation control system, but we passed, just amazingly, a wonderful threshold last week where we printed out assignments for all these enumerators,” said Census Bureau Director Robert Groves. “It worked.” 
 
The Census director made the comments at a press briefing on the Census participation rate, which took place at the National Press Club in Washington on Thursday.


 
Groves said the Bureau is not fond of its paper-based operation control system (PBOCS), which is used to manage the non-response follow-up (NRFU). The NRFU, set to begin May 1, is the Census’ largest operation and involves census workers personally interviewing millions of people nationwide who did not respond to the mailed Census questionnaire.
 
"Slightly more than 72 percent of U.S. households believed to be occupied mailed back their 2010 Census forms, the same rate that was achieved in 2000,” the U.S. Census Bureau announced on Apr. 28.
 
“Not that it is the most loved piece of software in the Census Bureau, but it’s working well enough to get the census down so far,” said Groves. 
 
“We have assignments ready for 600,000 people who are ready to hit the streets on Saturday,” he added. “So we're proceeding.” 
 
According to a Mar. 25 Government Accountability Office report entitled, “Data Collection is Under Way, But Reliability of Key Information Technology Systems Remains a Risk,” the Census Bureau was experiencing problems with two IT systems, one of which is the paper-based operation control system that Groves mentioned during the press conference.
 
The GAO reported last February 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.” 
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A copy of a 2010 Census form. (AP Photo/Idaho Press-Tribune, Charlie Litchfield)

On Thursday, Robert Goldenkoff, the director of strategic issues for the GAO and author of the March 25 GAO report on the IT problems affecting the Census, told CNSNews.com:  “The [paper based] operational control system used to manage the field follow-up operation was still having stability issues last week; the Census Bureau continues to work on it.” 
 
On Mar. 25, Judith Gordon, the principal assistant inspector general for Audit and Evaluation at the Department of Commerce, which runs the Census Bureau, testified about the IT problems affecting the Census before Congress, saying that the Census’ decennial count’s accuracy was “at risk” because of IT issues.   
 
“IT problems place the efficiency and accuracy of Non-Response Follow-Up at risk and final decennial costs remain uncertain,” Gordon told lawmakers, and as CNSNews.com reported. Gordon had testified before a subcommittee on the Census of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
 
In the same Mar. 25 GAO report, Goldenkoff revealed that “an estimated 50 million housing units out of a mail-out universe of about 120 million” would be non-respondents and would require an in-person follow-up to count. The operating budget for the NRFU is $2.7 billion. 
  
Article 1, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution calls for a decennial enumeration (census) of the American people to be used for allocating U.S. House seats among the states.