2000 Census:

Progress Made on Design, but Risks Remain

GGD-97-142: Published: Jul 14, 1997. Publicly Released: Jul 14, 1997.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO updated the information provided in its October 25, 1995, testimony on the Census Bureau's plans for the 2000 Decennial Census, focusing on: (1) the Bureau's progress on its plans concerning the initiatives discussed in GAO's 1997 testimony; and (2) whether the Bureau has demonstrated the feasibility of its plans for carrying out the 2000 Decennial Census.

GAO noted that: (1) since GAO's October 1995 testimony, the Census Bureau has continued with the planning of the new design initiatives that GAO and others have suggested, which are aimed at increasing the mail response rate; (2) this is important because it will reduce the need for follow-up visits by enumerators, the most costly, difficult to manage, and error-prone operation in the census; (3) the Bureau has continued to develop its plan for dealing with those who do not respond by mail and for checking the quality of the results it gets from mail responses and from visits by enumerators; (4) its current plan, which was put forth in March 1997, is to statistically sample those who do not respond to its mail survey; (5) the Bureau believes that this approach offers the best combination of reduced costs, improved accuracy expected at various geographic levels, and operational feasibility; (6) the Bureau developed accuracy estimates by simulating what the results of the census would likely be under various design options; (7) after the Bureau made several modifications, GAO concluded that, if the Bureau's methods and assumptions were properly applied, the final data produced in June 1997 should be generally reasonable for use in projecting the likely effects of the Bureau's proposed sampling and statistical estimation initiatives; (8) because of concerns about the potential effects of sampling at the local level, GAO requested that the Bureau provide more detailed data on error rates at the census tract level; (9) the Bureau's simulations showed that the March 1997 sampling design plan would likely produce more accurate population estimates in two-thirds of the census tracts than using a conventional design once again; (10) as of July 1, 1997, the Bureau had not shared the detailed results of its analysis with Congress, nor had it yet fully demonstrated the operational feasibility of its current plan to Congress; (11) the Bureau is planning a dress rehearsal for the 2000 Census in 1998 to demonstrate and test its design features; and (12) it is important for Congress and the administration to reach agreement on the design as soon as possible before the dress rehearsal so that: (a) the Bureau can test what it plans to implement in 2000; (b) Congress and the Bureau can discuss the operational feasibility of the plan in terms of the dress rehearsal results; and (c) Congress and the Bureau can determine whether the dress rehearsal outcomes are sufficiently similar to the results of the Bureau's research and simulations.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On January 25, 1999, the Supreme Court ruled against the Census Bureau's planned use of statistical sampling for congressional apportionment purposes. With this ruling, it has been determined that the Census Bureau will now pursue a traditional census plan. Therefore, there is no longer a need for the Census Bureau to provide Congress and other stakeholders detailed information on both sampling and nonsampling design proposals for purposes of apportionment. Instead, the Census Bureau will now be expected to provide Congress a plan for conducting a traditional census without the use of sampling, which includes a post-enumeration survey for measuring accuracy.

    Recommendation: The Director, Bureau of the Census, should provide Congress and other stakeholders with detailed data, which are updated as necessary to meet the objective of full and open disclosure, on the expected effects of the Bureau's census design proposals on costs and on accuracy and equity at various geographic levels, particularly as they relate to sampling for nonresponse and integrated coverage measurement (ICM) as well as on a design that would not involve sampling nonrespondents and ICM.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce: Bureau of the Census

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On November 26, 1997, the Administration reached an agreement with Congress on the funding of the 2000 Dress Rehearsal. The agreement included $31 million in fiscal year 1998 to expand the Dress Rehearsal to include dual testing of sampling and nonsampling methodologies at Dress Rehearsal sites.

    Recommendation: The Director, Bureau of the Census, should work with the Department of Commerce and Office of Management and Budget officials in reaching agreement with Congress on the design and funding level as quickly as possible, so that the Census 2000 Dress Rehearsal can be used to demonstrate all key design features planned for the 2000 Census.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce: Bureau of the Census

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: With the January 1999 Supreme Court ruling against the Census Bureau's planned use of statistical sampling for Congressional apportionment purposes, it has been determined that the Census Bureau will pursue a traditional census plan for 2000 without the use of sampling. The Census Dress Rehearsal tested both sampling and statistical estimation techniques, as well as traditional census-taking methods. Therefore, given the recent decision on sampling, the Census Bureau should be in a position to use dress rehearsal evaluation results to refine the traditional census design that it must now plan on conducting. In addition, in an effort to inform stakeholders, the Census Bureau has issued periodic reports on the status of Census Dress Rehearsal operations over the past year.

    Recommendation: The Director, Bureau of the Census, should conduct the Census 2000 Dress Rehearsal to mirror as closely as possible the design features planned for the 2000 Census, including paid advertising, to test the operational feasibility of the design and to determine whether the outcomes achieved in the dress rehearsal are similar to those of the Bureau's research and simulations, and provide these results to Congress in sufficient time to enable it to affect, if it so chooses, the final design for the 2000 Census.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce: Bureau of the Census

 

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