Federal Eye: Census Reaches New Heights in Cost, Staffing

The total operation and analysis of the 2010 Census will cost more than $14 billion by the time of its completion in 2012, making it the most expensive head count in American history, according to a new report by the Government Accountability Office. The GAO assessment, released this morning as a House subcommittee with oversight of the Census Bureau met to assess the progress of preparations, once again warns that the agency is still unprepared to perform its constitutionally-mandated duties next year.

As it has done before, GAO noted that the failure of specially-designed handheld computers curtailed dress rehearsals for census operations, meaning the Bureau “missed its only opportunity to demonstrate that the full complement of census-taking activities will work in concert with one another under near-census-like conditions.” Temporary Census employees will use the computers starting next month as the Bureau begins “address canvassing,” or its accounting of every place of residence, but have determined that the machines are not reliable enough to use for the in-person follow-up interviews.

“We are well on our way towards a successful enumeration,” acting Census director Thomas Mesenbourg told members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s Subcommittee on Information Policy, Census, and National Archives today.

“We are very cognizant that time is of the essence. We have an extremely tight schedule and it’s going to be critically important that we keep to that schedule,” he said in response to questions about the Bureau’s ability to finish all testing before counting begins.

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