Analysis of 1990 Census Operations

T-GGD-90-55: Published: Jul 13, 1990. Publicly Released: Jul 13, 1990.

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GAO discussed the decennial census and planning for future censes. GAO noted that: (1) the 1990 mail response rate was 63 percent, 12 percentage points lower than the 75-percent rate achieved in 1980; (2) the lower-than-expected response rate increased the Census Bureau's questionnaire nonresponse follow-up work load, significantly increasing staffing requirements and census costs; (3) early mail delivery problems for census questionnaires may have exacerbated apparent public apathy; (4) in May 1990, the Bureau had only 73 percent of the full-time staff it needed nationwide, which further delayed census operations; (5) the Bureau increased enumerator and other field staff pay in 140, or about 31 percent, of its district offices, and raised pay by between $.50 and $2.00 an hour; (6) the cost to count each housing unit will increase, rising to about $16.96; (7) the Bureau estimates that it will spend about $2.6 billion to complete the 1990 census, an increase of 73 percent over the 1980 cost; (8) the Bureau has had to adjust its fiscal year 1990 spending plans to shift resources to accommodate unanticipated cost increases; (9) although the net national undercount has declined over the past four decades, the disproportionality of the undercount has not; and (10) compressions of 1990 post-enumeration survey (PES) time schedules, coupled with changes in basic 1990 census procedures, could impair the data quality of both the census and PES. GAO believes that the 1990 census experience demonstrates the need for fundamental rethinking of how future censes should be taken.

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