Census Director: IT Problems ‘Probably’ Did Not Affect Accuracy of Count

Nicholas Ballasy | August 26, 2011 | 3:30pm EDT
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(CNSNews.com) – U.S. Census Bureau Director Dr. Robert Groves said that Information Technology (IT) problems “probably” did not affect the accuracy of the 2010 Census count but the digital “processing” of the paper forms was “slower” than the bureau wanted.

U.S. Census Bureau Director Robert Groves, kicking off the U.S. Census on Jan. 25, 2010, leaves a home in the remote Inupiat Eskimo village of Noorvik, Alaska. (AP File Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

CNSNews.com asked Groves, “Did the IT problems affect the accuracy of the 2010 Census count?”

“From a scientific viewpoint, that's a tough question because we didn't realize the Census without the IT problems so we don't have an empirical contrast but I can tell you that for all of those problems as the IG [Inspector General] report notes, we had fall back systems that were either developed or used to do the functional equivalent of those functions so there were scary moments, as I have reported in the 2010 operation, where the processing of paper forms was slower than we wanted,” Groves said on Thursday at the National Press Club after giving an update on the 2010 Census operations.

In August 2010, Groves said the Census had no evidence that the IT problems the bureau experienced had affected the quality of the data collected.

“We don’t have any evidence that there were quality impacts on this," Groves told CNSNews.com. "I can tell you there were scary moments among the management team. We – this is a great team."

On Thursday, Groves also said, “The back end of that caught up nicely. We did follow-up on the non-responsive, the most critical or the easiest criticism I think that could be made is we may have delayed or we did delay a quality control step to detect any unusual patterns of responses in non-response follow-up cases. So, we detected them late.”

In a May 5, 2010 report, the IG at the Commerce Department highlighted the IT issues specifically involving the paper-based operations control system (PBOCS), which is used to manage the Census’ ongoing door-to-door interviews of households that did not mail back their Census forms – know as the non-response follow-up (NRFU) operation. This is bureau’s largest and most costly procedure.

“This would involve for example, any falsification of data on the part of an enumerator. We caught those but we caught those later than we would have if we had not had computer problems but everything we caught, we completely redid that work with a different enumerator so but that's a fair commentary on potential effects but we think that affected our evaluation of the Census as opposed to the quality of the data themselves probably,” said Groves.

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