2000 Census:

Progress Report on the Mail Response Rate and Key Operations

T-GGD/AIMD-00-136: Published: Apr 5, 2000. Publicly Released: Apr 5, 2000.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed the status of key 2000 census-taking operations, focusing on: (1) the mail response rate and the implications it has for timely and accurate completion of the Bureau of the Census' nonresponse follow-up workload; (2) update/leave procedure, which is used to count people in certain small towns and rural areas; (3) Service-Based Enumeration, used to count persons with no usual residence; and (4) Questionnaire Assistance Centers, which are designed to help people, especially those with limited English skills, complete their census forms.

GAO noted that: (1) key to a successful census is a high mail response rate, which helps the Bureau obtain more accurate data and reduce what, in past census efforts, has been an error-prone and costly nonresponse follow-up workload; (2) the Bureau has based its schedule, staffing and funding resources needed for follow-up on an expected national response rate of 61 percent by April 11, 2000; (3) at that time, the Bureau will begin to generate a list of nonresponding households that will be visited by census enumerators; (4) obtaining at least this 61-percent mail response rate is critical to the success of the census; (5) according to senior Bureau officials, a mail response rate of as little as 2 or 3 percentage points less than 61 percent could affect the Bureau's ability to complete nonresponse follow-up operations on schedule, which could affect data quality; (6) as of Census Day, April 1, of the approximately 120 million households that were mailed or hand delivered questionnaires to complete and mail back, about 66 million have been returned to the Bureau, for a mail response rate of about 55 percent; (7) this rate is consistent with the Bureau's expectations for this date; (8) with 10 days remaining until the April 11th deadline for mailback responses for purposes of generating the list for nonresponse follow-up, the Bureau needs to receive over 7 million additional questionnaires--more than 700,000 returns each day, on average--to reach its 61-percent response rate objective; (9) while national data are not yet available, GAO's observations of update/leave thus far at 9 of the more than 350 local census offices conducting this operation suggest that the update/leave operation appears to have improved the quality of the address list, including correcting for potential lapses in the quality of earlier address list development efforts; (10) in GAO's field observations, GAO noted several things that generally went well with the way Service-Based Enumeration was conducted; (11) specifically: (a) operations were appropriately staffed; (b) enumerators generally obtained cooperation from service providers; and (c) enumerators showed professionalism and commitment to their jobs; (12) however, GAO also observed a variety of logistical, administrative, and procedural problems common to most of the sites that it visited; (13) GAO's observations of the 15 Questionnaire Assistance Centers it visited suggest that the Bureau has made appropriate efforts to make Questionnaire Assistance Centers available to targeted groups; and (14) in contrast, less input from local partners and less promotion was evident in other local census offices GAO visited.

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