Technology investments may keep 2020 census costs down

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The Census Bureau is looking to the Internet and shared mapping technology to keep costs of the 2020 Decennial Census from reaching $25 billion, a cost estimate based on 2010 census costs.

In a report (.pdf) dated Nov. 7 but not published until Dec. 7, GAO says that methods to improve the effectiveness of the census while reducing costs include turning to the Internet to increase self-response, using multiple canvassing approaches that rely on address and map databases, and buying private sector mapping technology.

In 2010, direct canvassing cost $444 million for 140,000 workers to verify more than 145 million addresses, making it the most cost- and labor-intensive data collection method of that year's census says the report. The 2010 Census cost $13 billion and is the most expensive census on record; continuing to do thigns the same way will could cause the 2020 Census to nearly double in cost to $25 billion, the GAO warns.

Current census mapping and address contracts cost the bureau $89.5 million. The bureau hopes to reduce some of these costs, or at least stave off increases to the cost, by partnering with other agencies like the United States Postal Service to develop a Geographic Support Systems Initiative that will allow agencies to share and continually update their address lists with each other.

State, local and tribal governments will also have access to the GSSI in order to update their own lists and share their datasets, which often include addresses for the purposes of emergency responses and property assessments.

For the 2000 census, the bureau ran an Internet-based response test, but it merely increased costs without increasing response rates. Further study suggests it would be cost effective if the response numbers were improved. For the upcoming 2013 American Community Survey, it plans to make an Internet option available.

The bureau will then review the 2013 ACS as well as other initiative tests in order to determine what methods of Internet-based self-reporting have the greatest results and what population demographics respond best to using the web.

 For more:
- download the report, GAO-13-53 (.pdf)

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