2010 Census:

Census Bureau Needs to Take Prompt Actions to Resolve Long-standing and Emerging Address and Mapping Challenges

GAO-06-272: Published: Jun 15, 2006. Publicly Released: Jun 15, 2006.

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To conduct a successful census, it is important that the U.S. Census Bureau (Bureau) produce the most complete and accurate address file and maps for 2010. For this review, GAO's specific objectives were to determine the extent to which (1) the Bureau's efforts to modernize the address file and maps are addressing problems experienced during the 2000 Census, (2) the Bureau is managing emerging address file and map issues, (3) the Bureau is able to collect and transmit address and mapping data using mobile computing devices (MCD) equipped with global positioning system (GPS) technology, and (4) the Bureau has a plan to update the address file and maps in areas affected by hurricanes Katrina and Rita. GAO reviewed the Bureau's progress in modernizing both the address file and maps.

The Bureau's address and map modernization efforts have progressed in some areas. The Bureau is researching how to correct addresses that were duplicated, missed, deleted, and incorrectly located on maps. However, some deadlines for completing research are not firm, while other deadlines that had been set continue to slip. Thus, whether research will be completed in enough time to allow the Bureau to develop new procedures to improve the 2010 address file is unknown. Also, the Bureau has not fully addressed emerging issues. For one such issue, the Bureau has acknowledged the compressed time frame for completing address canvassing--an operation where census workers walk every street in the country to verify addresses and maps--but has not reevaluated the associated schedule or staffing workloads. Also, the Bureau has allotted only 6 weeks to conduct address canvassing it completed in 18 weeks in 2000 and expanded the operation from urban areas in 2000 to the entire country in 2010. Whether the Bureau can collect and transmit address and mapping data using the MCD is unknown. The MCD, tested during 2006 address canvassing, was slow and locked up frequently. Bureau officials said the MCD's performance is an issue, but a new MCD to be developed through a contract awarded in March 2006 will be reliable. However, the MCD will not be tested until the 2008 Dress Rehearsal, and if problems emerge, little time will remain to develop, test, and incorporate refinements. If after the Dress Rehearsal the MCD is found unreliable, the Bureau could face the remote but daunting possibility of reverting to the costly paper-based census of 2000. Bureau officials do not believe a specific plan is needed to update the addresses and maps for areas affected by the hurricanes. Securing a count is difficult under normal conditions, and existing procedures may insufficient to update addresses and maps after the hurricanes' destruction--made even more difficult as streets, housing, and population will be in flux.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In building the MAF for 2010 the Census Bureau took several steps to ensure the MAF will account for missed, deleted, and duplicate addresses. For example, in 2007 the Bureau designed procedures to determine the status of duplicate housing units during its Field Verification operation, while all housing units identified for deletion are rechecked during quality control to ensure a housing unit is not mistakenly deleted. The Bureau also developed procedures for locating missed addresses. During address canvassing listers were required to knock on doors and ask about hidden housing units not on the address file. Finally, the Census Bureau conducted tests in the spring of 2007 and winter of 2008 to its Field Data Collection Automation system, which allowed listers to verify, update, add, and delete address records in each census block and update map features electronically via a global positioning system.

    Recommendation: To mitigate potential risks facing the Bureau as it plans for 2010 and to ensure a more complete and accurate address file for the 2010 Census, the Secretary of Commerce should direct the U.S. Census Bureau to establish firm deadlines to complete research, testing, and evaluations of the Master Address File (MAF) to prevent missed, deleted, and duplicate addresses, as well as map errors, and develop an action plan that will allow sufficient time for the Bureau to revise or establish methodologies and procedures for building the 2010 MAF.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Consistent with our recommendation, the Bureau has re-evaluated the 2010 address canvassing schedule. Specifically, it has developed a proposal to conduct the operation in three 6-week waves. This proposal has been reviewed internally and issues with the revised schedule on on other programs and operations have been identified and are being evaluated as well.

    Recommendation: To mitigate potential risks facing the Bureau as it plans for 2010 and to ensure a more complete and accurate address file for the 2010 Census, the Secretary of Commerce should direct the U.S. Census Bureau to reevaluate the 2010 address canvassing schedule in areas affected by bad weather, as well as staffing levels, to ensure that the status of all housing units are accurately verified throughout the entire country.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Consistent with our recommendation the Bureau has assessed whether new procedures, additional resources, or local partnerships may be required to update the address lists and maps along the Gulf Coast. In March 2006, the Bureau chartered a team to look at the impacts to the address lists and maps for areas along the Gulf Coast affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. In June 2007, we reported that the team proposed several changes to the 2010 local update of census address program and address canvassing in the Gulf coast Region and that these changes have been implemented.

    Recommendation: To mitigate potential risks facing the Bureau as it plans for 2010 and to ensure a more complete and accurate address file for the 2010 Census, the Secretary of Commerce should direct the U.S. Census Bureau to develop a plan, prior to the start of the local update of census addresses in August 2007, that will assess whether new procedures, additional resources, or local partnerships may be required to update the MAF/Topologically Integrated Geographic Encoding and Referencing databases for areas along the Gulf Coast affected by hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

 

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