Commerce IG: Census in need of better program management


The Census Bureau must make fundamental changes, including to program management, if the 2020 census is not to cost an unsustainable amount, says the Commerce Department inspector general.

In a report dated June 27, the inspector general says the bureau estimates the 2020 Census could cost $22 billion--far more than the about $12 billion the 2010 census ended up costing even when accounting for unexpected cost increases. The Government Accountability Office says (.pdf) costs for the next decennial census could reach as much as $30 billion.

Among the mistakes the bureau made in executing the 2010 decennial was not using key project management best practices, the report states, noting that the bureau did not ensure that applicable tasks got entered into the project management system and then use the system to track the cost of performing each task.

Having omitted key data from the project management system, the bureau "could not connect the cost, schedule and progress of tasks," the report says.

It also recommends that the bureau's direction position span presidential administrations, stating that turnover among directors has been high. Six Census Bureau directors, two of them acting, oversaw the 2010 decennial while the 2000 decennial was overseen by five directors, two of those acting.

Among the unanticipated cost increases in the 2010 decennial was a 25 percent rise in address canvassing by field workers. In the end, field canvassing ended up costing $444 million, the report says--and the end result was error prone due to inconsistent work quality from temporary workers.

Knowing exactly the addresses and location of American households is one of the best predictors of a successful census, according to the bureau. But rather than update its map database through a large-scale canvassing operation, it should update address lists and maps consciously, says the inspector general--something that Census officials say they are doing.

The report also recommends usage of the Internet to collect census data, noting that Australia, Canada, New Zealand and other countries have done so, and that the United Kingdom plans to do so during its 2011 census. Census officials also say they plan on doing so in 2020.

A few days after publication of the report, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke announced June 29 a reorganization of the Census Bureau, stating that he will reduce the number of regional offices from 12 to six over the next 18 months.

A 2008 Commerce inspector general report described the Census Bureau, particularly headquarters as "an insular organization that eschews open dialogue with outside parties and even its own regional operations."

For more:
- download the report, OIG-11-030-I (.pdf)

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