Why Aren’t We Conducting the Census 2010 Online?

Have you seen this great interview with Census CIO Brian McGrath in Federal Computer Week?

If you’re wondering why the Census is not incorporating more technology into its activities, the interview will respond to your questions and concerns. In particular, I had been curious to understand why we aren’t completing our Census forms via an Internet-based portal. Check out this excerpt from the interview to find out:


FCW: The 2010 Census will be performed with paper forms. Why haven’t you moved to electronic forms yet?

McGrath: The decision to not use an Internet-based capability was made several years ago. Interestingly enough, we are already engaged in Internet-based survey activities. We have 16 surveys that we currently conduct online. About a third of those are leading economic indicators such as manufacturing numbers. So we are in that market. We have 23 additional surveys we are going to deploy online in the next 12 to 18 months.

FCW: But still not for the decennial count? Are there specific challenges to moving from paper to the Web?

McGrath: The big challenge is how do we reach everyone. There will still be some component of a paper-based notification to each household. What we want to move to — and what we’re doing with these other surveys — is some are available exclusively online and others have an option to use paper.

Clearly, there are benefits to being able to ingest the data directly. We can edit the data in a more efficient way through online versus sending out a paper form, so that we can help the participants provide us with more accurate data.

FCW: If it has benefits, when will it happen?

McGrath: Clearly, when we move to 2020, there will be a significant Internet-based component.

FCW: Why is notification such a big hurdle to getting Web-based forms?

McGrath: You live at a particular address. I don’t have a means of getting to you electronically because I may know your e-mail address, but I don’t know that you live at particular address.

So there still will still be some sense of a paper component potentially. I’ve got to send you a document, I’ve got to contact you at your particular address and encourage you to reply online.

In 2020, we may have this massive database where we know where everybody lives and we have an e-mail address where we can send an e-mail, but that doesn’t exist today. That is why today, there is still a paper component.


What do you think about the current status of the Census and its use of technology?

What are your recommendations for improvement?

How do we overcome the hurdle of reaching everyone – especially people with limited technology access?

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Henry Brown

Commerce Dept ATTEMPTED to begin to automate the census process and because of issues with the process(google is a great source for some of the stories Late 2008/early 2009) left ALMOST all the automation out of the process whether because of fear of getting burned again or ???.

The Census bureau’s IT security people have gone SUPER CAUTIOUS with anything related to the internet. My spouse who has joined the census team, has indicated that that the pendulum has probably swung back to the last census or even the one in 1990 as far as it relates to utilizing technology.

IMO: The way to reach everyone is rather simple, Throw enough resources at the problem(because of the general mindset, probably are talking here simple numbers of people hitting the street to insure that everyone is counted) and CONVINCE the population that being counted in the census is NOT a concern regardless of other issues that could be brought to the table.