This is the accessible text file for GAO report number GAO-03-455 
entitled 'Federal Programs: Ethnographic Studies Can Inform Agencies' 
Actions' which was released on March 31, 2003.

This text file was formatted by the U.S. General Accounting Office 

(GAO) to be accessible to users with visual impairments, as part of a 

longer term project to improve GAO products’ accessibility. Every 

attempt has been made to maintain the structural and data integrity of 

the original printed product. Accessibility features, such as text 

descriptions of tables, consecutively numbered footnotes placed at the 

end of the file, and the text of agency comment letters, are provided 

but may not exactly duplicate the presentation or format of the printed 

version. The portable document format (PDF) file is an exact electronic 

replica of the printed version. We welcome your feedback. Please E-mail 

your comments regarding the contents or accessibility features of this 

document to


March 2003:

Federal Programs:

Ethnographic Studies Can Inform Agencies’ Actions:

Federal Ethnography:




Appendix I: How Ethnographic Studies Can Inform Agencies’



Results in Brief:


Scope and Methodology:

Federal Agencies Employ Ethnography in a Variety of Ways:

Cases Illustrate Ethnography’s Incorporation in Agency Programs:

Concluding Observations:


Table 1: Agencies’ Illustrative Uses of Ethnography:

Table 2: Ethnographic Study Designs and Uses:


Figure 1: The Ethnographic Research Process:

Figure 2: Ethnographic Studies and Recommendations on Enumerating 

Populations Difficult to Count:


CDC Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

DOD: Department of Defense:

DSTDP: Division of STD Prevention:

EHS: Early Head Start:

EPA: Environmental Protection Agency:

HHS: Department of Health and Human Services:

NMFS: National Marine Fisheries Service:

NOAA: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration:

NPS: National Park Service:

ONDCP: Office of National Drug Control Policy:

SIA: social impact assessment:

STD sexually transmitted disease:

VISTA™: Values in Strategy Assessment:

YATS: Youth Attitudes Tracking Study:

This is a work of the U.S. Government and is not subject to copyright 

protection in the United States. It may be reproduced and distributed 

in its entirety without further permission from GAO. It may contain 

copyrighted graphics, images or other materials. Permission from the 

copyright holder may be necessary should you wish to reproduce 

copyrighted materials separately from GAO’s product.

United States General Accounting Office:

Washington, DC 20548:


In this time of emphasis on performance and results, federal agencies 

and congressional committees can benefit from knowing the full range of 

social science methods that can help them improve the programs they 

oversee. Among the methods they might consider are those of 

ethnography, derived from anthropology. However, information about the 

past and present uses of ethnography to improve federal programs has 

not been systematically gathered or analyzed. Therefore, its potential 

for program improvement may be overlooked.

Ethnography can fill gaps in what we know about a community whose 

beliefs and behavior affect how federal programs operate. This can be 

especially useful when such beliefs or behavior present barriers to a 

program’s objectives. Ethnography helps build knowledge of a community 

by observing its members and by interviewing them in their natural 

setting. Although many people associate ethnography with lengthy 

anthropological research aimed at cultures remote from our own, it can 

be used to inform public programs and has a long history of application 

in the federal government.

Our aim in this study has been to describe how federal agencies have 

used the results of ethnographic studies to improve agency programs, 

policies, and procedures. We have done this by examining the range and 

scope of the use of ethnography in the federal government. In working 

through a network of anthropologists in the federal government and 

other social science networks, among our other resources, we 

constructed a list of examples of the use of ethnography that were 

established, not merely one-time or grant-funded, elements in agency 

programs. From this list, we have been able to present case studies 

that illustrate different agencies whose application of ethnography 

varies in purpose, method, and the use of results. We believe that this 

study not only provides examples of how the federal government uses 

ethnography but also suggests some means of expanding and improving its 

use of ethnography and its results. We hope that it will provide a 

resource to agencies that face site-specific or broader issues 

involving communities or populations important to program success.

Within the body of our text, we offer original visual presentations 

that define the ethnographic research process and that suggest some 

relationships between ethnographic studies and ways of enumerating 

populations that are difficult to count. Readers will also find tables 

summarizing our cases of the agencies’ uses of ethnography.

Copies of this study are available on request. For additional 

information, please contact me at (202) 512-8430. Key contributors to 

this project included Gail MacColl, Emily Jackson, and Tahra Edwards.

Donna Heivilin

Director, Applied Research and Methods:

Signed by Donna Heivilin

[End of section]

Appendix I: How Ethnographic Studies Can Inform Agencies’ Actions:


Gaps in information about and understanding of communities or 

populations whose beliefs and behavior affect how a federal program 

operates can be obstacles to a program’s objectives. Those gaps are 

sometimes filled by using ethnography, a set of social science methods 

designed to build knowledge by observation and in-depth interviewing of 

a community’s members. However, information about how federal agencies 

have used ethnography has not been systematically gathered and 

analyzed, and ethnography’s potential utility for evaluating programs 

and improving them in a range of government settings has not been 

examined. Thus, agencies and congressional committees have little help 

in ascertaining when ethnographic methods might be useful for the 

programs they are responsible for.

We undertook this study of federal agencies’ use of ethnographic 

methods as a research and development project under our basic 

legislative authority to undertake work in support of the Congress and 

of our performance goal to improve the quality of evaluative 

information. Our objectives were to (1) examine the range and scope of 

the use of ethnography in the federal government and (2) illustrate how 

federal agencies have used the results of ethnographic studies to 

improve agency programs, policies, and procedures.

Results in Brief:

We identified program offices in 10 federal departments and agencies 

that have used ethnographic methods. They ranged from the National Park 

Service (NPS), which has used ethnography to inform park planning and 

interpretive programs, to the Bureau of the Census, which has used it 

to conduct alternative enumerations of hard-to-count populations. In 

each office, ethnography was used to gain a better understanding of the 

sociocultural life of a group whose beliefs and behavior were important 

to a federal program. The character and intensity of ethnographic 

studies and the communities studied varied. For example, the Office of 

National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) uses ethnographers as consultants 

in its ongoing monitoring of trends in street-level drug use. In 

contrast, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) supported 

community-based efforts to protect local drinking water by providing 

for ethnographers to help local leaders understand cultural and social 

motivations and obstacles to community involvement in those efforts.

Our case studies illustrate how four agencies used ethnographic methods 

to meet statutory requirements and help meet performance objectives. 

The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) uses ethnography in 

conducting statutorily required assessments of the impact of proposed 

fisheries’ management plans on fishing communities. NMFS has also used 

ethnographies to help identify ways to mitigate the plans’ potentially 

negative effects. Rapid-assessment ethnographic procedures have helped 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) staff identify factors 

that contribute to outbreaks of sexually transmitted disease (STD) and 

suggest preventive actions to local health officials. The Bureau of the 

Census has used ethnographic studies to understand why certain groups 

have been undercounted and to propose improved methods of enumeration. 

To target recruiting efforts more effectively to young people, the 

Department of Defense (DOD) used ethnographic surveys to obtain in-

depth information about the propensity to join the military from youths 

who had participated in an ongoing structured survey and their parents.

In each case, a program’s operation or outcomes depended in some way on 

the actions of a definable cultural community. Overall, ethnographic 

methods were used to obtain new information about and understanding of 

the communities and the problem at hand through interaction with 

community members. In some instances, findings were applied only to the 

particular program’s local community. But the case study agencies also 

sought to capture ethnographic information across study sites in order 

to support comparisons, reliably identify recurring themes, or 

facilitate the integration of ethnographic with economic or other 

quantitative data.


Ethnography is a social science method developed within cultural 

anthropology for studying communities in natural settings. Although 

ethnography is commonly associated with lengthy research aimed at 

understanding cultures remote from our own, it can also be used to 

inform the design, implementation, and evaluation of public programs. 

Ethnography has a long history of application in the federal 

government. For example, in 1852, the ethnographic work of an 

anthropologist commissioned by the Congress to report on the 

circumstances and prospects of Indian tribes in the United States gave 

background and direction to Indian policy. During the era of the New 

Deal, anthropologists in the U.S. Department of Agriculture examined 

the problems of rural poverty and the relationship of farming to 

community viability. Anthropologists during World War II established 

institutes at universities across the country to teach foreign service 

officers, military personnel, and others regional history, language, 

culture, society, and politics relevant to national defense and U.S. 

participation in global affairs.

In this study, we focus on how federal agencies can use ethnographic 

techniques to understand and address issues or problems important to a 

program, such as the relationship between natural resources and 

communities or between community beliefs and behaviors and program 

activities. In the remainder of this section, we describe some of the 

defining features of ethnography as a method of study.

Ethnographic Methods Explore Behavior in a Social Setting:

Ethnographic methods are exploratory. They are appropriate for studying 

issues or problems that are not readily amenable to traditional 

quantitative or experimental methods alone and in which it is important 

to discover what the participants do and why they do it from their own 

perspective.[Footnote 1] Ethnographic techniques are used to:

* define an issue or problem when it is not clear, when it is complex, 

or when it is embedded in multiple systems or sectors;

* identify the range of the problem’s settings and the participants, 

sectors, or stakeholders in those settings who are not known or who 

have not been identified;

* explore the factors associated with the issue or problem in order to 

understand and address them or to identify them when they are not 


* describe unexpected or unanticipated outcomes; and

* design measures that match the characteristics of the target 

population, clients, or community participants when existing measures 

are not a good fit.

Ethnographic studies follow the steps illustrated in figure 1. In the 

preparation stage, the study team assembles existing information about 

the local community to be studied. The research often begins with an 

initial question about a situation--for example, “What accounts for the 

undercount of urban minorities during the decennial census?” The 

researcher uses prior knowledge about a setting to create a formative 

theory or explanation of the situation.

Figure 1: The Ethnographic Research Process:

[See PDF for image]

[End of figure]

Then field data collection, the next stage, begins. Ethnography is 

distinguished by the collection of data by means of human observation 

and interaction in a local setting, with the researcher as the primary 

data collection tool.

Key exploratory ethnographic data collection techniques include:

* Exploratory or participant observation, which requires the 

ethnographer to be present at, involved in, and recording the daily 

activities in the field setting. It is the starting point for 

ethnographic research.


* In-depth, open-ended interviewing, which explores a topic in detail 

in order to deepen the interviewer’s knowledge of an area about which 

little is known. The interviewer is open to all relevant responses and 

has flexibility to cover new topics as they arise.


* Semi-structured interviewing, which is more focused than open-ended 

interviewing and may be administered to a representative sample of 

respondents. It is based on an interview guide of predetermined 

questions but seeks open-ended answers and allows the researcher to 

expand questions through probes.[Footnote 2]


Fieldwork varies in depth and duration. In studies of an entire 

culture, the ethnographer may be fully immersed in the research 

setting, living in the setting and participating in all possible daily 

activities for a number of years. Ethnographic studies that focus on a 

particular dimension or aspect of culture often involve shorter 

periods. For example, they may use techniques such as a rapid 

assessment procedure to gather in-depth information on a particular 

problem in a short time.

In circumstances where it is inappropriate to take notes openly, 

ethnographers may make mental notes that they keep in memory until it 

is possible to write them down. They make scratch notes, or jottings 

and scribblings during events in the field, or immediately after 

events, often written in shorthand or code; these help the ethnographer 

remember their mental notes. Ethnographers later turn their mental 

notes and scratch notes into descriptions, developed in turn into field 

notes, which make a custom, belief, or practice comprehensible not only 

to the ethnographer but also to outsiders. In other circumstances, 

where information collected is of legal significance, federal 

ethnographers may record interviews openly, making sure that 

respondents know that their answers are being recorded.

Analysis and Interpretation Proceed Throughout an Ethnographic Study:

In an ethnographic study, analysis and interpretation proceed from the 

moment the researcher enters the field.[Footnote 3] As depicted in 

figure 1, the researcher’s initial theory is continually modified as 

new information is obtained. Field notes include reflection, 

preliminary analysis, initial interpretations, and new questions to be 

explored and tested in future observations or interviews. They are 

organized around the basic conceptual frames or questions that 

structured the study in the beginning, and they become increasingly 

focused as research progresses.

Analysis out of the field begins with final coding of text data--that 

is, organizing the data in terms of a framework with which the 

researcher can support the analysis and reach conclusions. The 

researcher decides which data should be coded and devises a strategy 

for separating them into conceptual categories. After the data are 

coded, researchers can begin to examine collections of codes, through a 

variety of systematic qualitative analysis techniques, to see how they 

are related to one another, and organize related items by their 

patterns. Qualitative data can also be integrated with or compared to 

results from surveys or other sources.

Reporting results from ethnographic research commonly involves 

constructing an analytically informed narrative portrait of what is 

being studied. The narrative may include vignettes or descriptions 

intended to convey typical events or situations, as well as contingency 

tables and other graphic or numerical displays.

Ethnography Overlaps but Is Distinct from Other Social Sciences:

Field observation and exploratory interviews are not exclusive to 

ethnography: Other social sciences draw on them as well. And 

ethnographic work may include measurement and analysis methods common 

to other social sciences. For example, it may include a structured 

survey administered to a representative sample of respondents that can 

be used to measure relationships among the variables that emerged from 

exploratory work. The standards of quality that apply to these methods 

apply in ethnographic studies, as they would in any social science.

However, two important features distinguish the ethnographic approach 

from other social sciences. First, ethnography seeks to understand 

culturally based behaviors and beliefs from the perspective of a 

community’s members and to use local perspectives as the foundation for 

building testable theories. Second, the researcher is the primary tool 

for data collection, which takes place under conditions that the 

ethnographer cannot control. The second feature raises potential 

threats to validity and reliability, but these can be minimized by 

careful procedures that are outlined in the professional ethnographic 

literature and are emphasized in ethnographers’ training.[Footnote 4]

Scope and Methodology:

To ascertain the range and scope of the federal agencies’ use of 

ethnography, we solicited information through a network of 

anthropologists in the federal government and other social science 

networks and newsletters, conducted literature reviews, and searched 

agency Internet sites. Given the limitations of our initial search, 

some federal agency uses may not have come to our attention, and our 

list of agencies that have used ethnography should not be interpreted 

as complete.

From initial information from our search and follow-up conversations 

with individuals who identified agency uses, we constructed a list of 

examples of the use of ethnography that were an established element in 

a program (not merely one-time or grant-funded studies) and that were 

sufficiently mature to have generated results. For more detailed study, 

we then chose four examples that illustrate different agencies whose 

use of ethnography varied in purpose, method, and use of results. We 

obtained additional information about these programs from agency 

documents, external reports that discussed the ethnographic studies, 

and interviews with knowledgeable officials. Our four case studies do 

not constitute a complete set or representative sample of established 

agency uses. They are intended only to be illustrative.

We requested comments on a draft of this report from the Department of 

Commerce and the Department of Defense and the National Center for HIV, 

STD, and TB Prevention. DOD and Commerce provided technical comments 

that we incorporated where appropriate throughout the report.

Federal Agencies Employ Ethnography in a Variety of Ways:

Table 1 shows program offices in 10 federal departments or agencies 

that we found employed ethnographic methods in the past 15 years. They 

include NPS’s work to ensure that park planning and interpretive 

programs are culturally informed and the Bureau of the Census’s 

enumerating in alternative ways populations that are difficult to 

count. In each case, we found that ethnography was used to understand 

better a group’s sociocultural life with respect to an important 

federal program issue.

Table 1: Agencies’ Illustrative Uses of Ethnography:

[See PDF for image]

[End of table]

Source: Agency documents.

Before turning to our more extended examples, we summarize a few that 

illustrate the range of the agencies’ use of ethnography. The National 

Park Service established its Applied Ethnography Program to 

systematically conduct, contract for, and share the results of studies 

in cultural anthropology with park planners, managers, and other 

decision makers. The program uses ethnographic studies to identify 

diverse present-day tribes and communities and to ascertain the 

cultural meanings of park resources to their members. The results of 

the studies are used in assessing the impact of planned actions on the 

cultural and natural environment, as required pursuant to the National 

Environmental Policy Act, and on sacred places, pursuant to the 

American Indian Religious Freedom Act (and Executive Order 13007 on 

Sacred Sites). In addition, ethnographic studies help NPS ensure that 

diverse local views and community concerns are considered in park 

planning and that NPS’s site presentations to visitors are culturally 

informed. This can be particularly helpful in interpreting sites that 

have a divisive past, such as massacre sites, where American Indians 

lost their lives, and plantation parks, which are characterized by 

strong, often divergent views of slavery among descendants of enslaved 

people and their owners.

EPA, recognizing the importance of human and social needs and local 

community actions in ecosystem protection, has drawn on ethnography to 

support such community actions. Staff in EPA’s Office of Wetlands, 

Oceans, and Watersheds created a guide that incorporates ethnographic 

approaches in outlining procedures for identifying community cultural 

values, beliefs, and behaviors related to the environment.[Footnote 5] 

The guide is intended for training people, organizations, and 

institutions in watershed protection and public health professionals as 

well as federal, tribal, state, and local agencies seeking technical 

skills for improving stakeholder involvement. EPA has also made 

ethnographic consultants available. In 1996, EPA’s Office of Ground 

Water and Drinking Water set up a 5-year cooperative agreement with the 

Society for Applied Anthropology to assist community-based efforts to 

protect local drinking water supplies and to understand the cultural 

and social motivations and obstacles to community involvement at the 

local level. For example, an anthropologist helped the Lower Elwha 

Klallam Tribe explore how its traditional cultural emphasis on loose 

local control of natural resources may affect its ability to adopt 

source water protection programs and helped tribal members see the need 

for protective management in light of the reservation’s growing 


ONDCP uses ethnographic expertise to alert policy makers to short-term 

changes and newly emerging problems concerning specific drugs, drug 

users, and drug sellers. An ONDCP quarterly publication, Pulse Check, 

uses reports from telephone interviews with ethnographers and 

epidemiologists who work in drug research to gather information about 

trends in use, areas where drugs are sold, availability, quality, and 

pricing. Pulse Check provides a quick sense of what is happening with 

regard to drug abuse across the nation.

The Department of Justice has turned to ethnographic research to learn 

about street crime and gang activity. For example, the National 

Institute of Justice’s 1999 annual conference on criminal justice 

research and evaluation featured work by ethnographers who had studied 

crime and drugs from the street level.[Footnote 6] In one study, 

ethnography was used to obtain quantitative information--numerical data 

on the economic practices of a street gang (wage and nonwage 

expenditures)--through key informants and participant observation. 

Ethnography was helpful in gathering two data sets that may assist in 

the policy arena: (1) the ethnographer gained access to financial 

records a single gang maintained for a 4-year period that contained 

data on the price and quantity of drugs sold, other sources of revenue, 

and gang expenditures for wages, weapons, funerals, and other items and 

(2) ethnographers and macroeconomists longitudinally tracked nearly a 

dozen gangs in a large city, producing a taxonomy of the various 

organizational structures in which drug trafficking took place.

The Administration for Children and Families of the Department of 

Health and Human Services (HHS) used ethnographic techniques in two 

national Early Head Start (EHS) evaluation sites to illuminate ways in 

which the families EHS served accepted or rejected the program’s 

Montessori intervention. The national EHS evaluation follows a 

traditional random-assignment research design, with quantitative 

measures of process and outcome. Several sites, however, included 

anthropological work as part of their local research to tell the story 

of program implementation more fully and to document the sociocultural 

contexts in which programs operated. An ethnographer observed the 

classroom regularly and visited selected families in their homes to 

discuss their thoughts about the Montessori EHS intervention in more 

detail. The preliminary results from this ethnographic research have 

emphasized that contrary to what may have been believed about 

Montessori before the program’s experience, low-income parents 

appreciated and valued the changes they saw in their children.

The Employment and Training Administration in the Department of Labor 

included an ethnographic community assessment in an evaluation of the 

1996 Youth Opportunity Area (Kulick) Initiative for out-of-school 

youths. Findings from the ethnographic component, along with a process 

evaluation and survey data, will be integrated into an overall 

evaluation of the effectiveness of the Kulick project. Ethnographic 

methods in this context are used to assess the neighborhoods’ sense of 

well-being before, during, and after the demonstration.

Cases Illustrate Ethnography’s Incorporation in Agency Programs:

The examples below illustrate how a regulatory agency, a preventive 

health services agency, a statistical agency, and a defense agency 

incorporated ethnographic methods to shed light on program-relevant 

aspects of cultural communities critical to program success. The 

ethnographic work represented immersion in a community for an extended 

period, rapid assessment, and cognitive interviewing by external and 

in-house experts. The cases include both immediate and long-term 

results of study findings.

NMFS Uses Ethnographic Techniques in Assessing the Effects of Fishery 

Management Plans:

NMFS, a unit within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration 

(NOAA) in the Department of Commerce, is responsible for the science-

based conservation and management of the nation’s living marine 

resources and their environment. In allocating fishing resources 

through the fisheries management planning process, NMFS is required by 

statute to consider the impact of its allocations on fishing 

communities. Ethnographic studies have contributed to this decision 

making process.

NMFS is responsible for upholding the guidelines and regulations 

promulgated under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and 

Management Act.[Footnote 7] The act established eight Regional Fishery 

Management Councils, giving them the responsibility of managing 

fisheries resources for conservation purposes and for allocating these 

resources fairly among various and competing users, such as commercial, 

charter, and recreational fishers. To carry out this responsibility, 

the councils prepare recommendations, known as fishery management 

plans, to the Secretary of Commerce. The plans are sent first to the 

appropriate NMFS Regional Office and then to NMFS’s Office of 

Sustainable Fisheries, where they are checked for compliance with this 

act and other laws concerning marine resources that require agencies to 

assess the social and economic effects of proposed regulatory or policy 

changes.[Footnote 8] Fishery plans that pass the review are sent to the 

Secretary of Commerce for approval. Once a plan is approved, NMFS 

issues regulations to implement it.[Footnote 9]

The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act stipulates 

that conservation and management measures take into account the 

importance of fishery resources to fishing communities in order to 

provide for the communities’ sustained participation and, to the extent 

practicable, minimize adverse economic impact on them.[Footnote 10] 

This is done by conducting social impact assessments (SIA), which are 

like economic or ecological impact assessments but focus on the human 

environment of fisheries--on the effects of change in resource 

availability or fishing practices on fishermen, communities, fishing-

related businesses and employment, families and other social 

institutions, social norms of behavior, and cultural values. Social 

impact assessments provide a basis for assessing the social and 

cultural consequences of alternative fishery management actions or 

policies. NMFS considers them an essential element in fisheries’ 

decision making.

Many such assessments used in fisheries plans are supported by 

ethnographic studies, some performed by firms under contract to the 

regional council, others by academics. In addition, a social 

anthropologist on the NOAA staff reviews each proposed plan for 

compliance with the assessment’s requirement. As outlined in a recent 

NOAA guidance document, conducting an SIA to fulfill the standards of 

the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act involves:

* identifying communities substantially dependent on fishing within the 

area that is affected,


* establishing a baseline profile of each community that covers a range 

of economic and sociocultural variables,


* describing and analyzing community social factors,


* identifying fisheries’ issues from the community members’ 

perspectives and collecting and analyzing information on them, and 


* assessing alternative management actions with respect to these issues 

and their likely effects on the community.


To illustrate, an SIA using a rapid ethnographic assessment method was 

conducted with respect to a Multispecies Groundfish Fishery in New 

England and the Mid-Atlantic region.[Footnote 11] The ports studied 

were selected by using a combination of information derived from field 

visits, licensing data, telephone interviews in the local area, and 

consultation with national and regional NMFS representatives. Both 

social and economic aspects of the Multispecies Groundfish Fishery 

fleet were identified and described, based on information from in-depth 

interviews, focus groups, and other sources. The assessment report 

noted each port’s dependence on the fishery and the role of available 

public programs, explained the fisheries issues that fishing 

communities faced, and contrasted issues fishermen identified with 

those of fishery managers. This rapid SIA emphasized the importance of 

understanding the nature and extent of the Multispecies Groundfish 

Fishery crisis and the unique characteristics and adaptive strategies 

of its fisher families and communities.

NMFS officials cited instances in which ethnographic assessments had 

provided key information for fisheries’ plans. For example, in 1990 a 

social science consulting firm developed community profiles for the 

North Pacific Fisheries Management Council that concerned the 

allocation of the catch between various participants. It addressed the 

critical question of how the fishing catch in the region should be 

allocated between the mother ship fleet (floating processors), the 

factory trawler fleet, and the onshore processors. According to an NMFS 

official, an economic impact statement had also been performed in the 

area, but its data had stated that there would be little change in the 

cost of fish to consumers if catch were restricted for any one of these 

groups. However, the social data showed that if the fisheries 

management plan did not properly allocate catch between the three 

groups, there would be significant disruption in the social and 

cultural lives of the fishers in Alaskan communities. There were also 

some hidden economic costs, such as welfare payments to the fishers who 

suffered because their catch allocation was reduced. According to the 

NMFS official, the community profiles were incorporated into the plan 

and served as the basis for the Inshore/Offshore Allocation Agreement 

in 1991. They were also used as building blocks, in combination with 

the preliminary results of the economic modeling group, for future 

reports analyzing the potential social effects of different inshore-

offshore allocative regulations.

NMFS and the regions have in the past had few social scientists on 

staff and have relied largely on sociocultural studies by outside 

experts, each with its own design. While individually designed studies 

can provide useful insight into local or regional conditions in a given 

year, study-to-study differences in specific variables and analyses 

make it difficult to analyze study results over time. Noting an 

increase in legal challenges to fishery plans, NMFS has recently taken 

steps to build its capacity to assess and analyze social, cultural, and 

economic issues and impacts related to fisheries’ management actions. 

This includes hiring additional social scientists as well as revising 

existing NMFS operational guidelines and creating new guidelines and 

manuals to help social science professionals and fisheries managers 

research and write the numerous analyses for each management action.

NMFS officials are also working on creating a longitudinal database for 

sociocultural data. The Sociocultural Practitioners Manual recommends a 

basic set of demographic, social structural, cultural, and 

socioeconomic data elements to be collected for every fishery, fishing 

community, and fishing port in order to create community profiles that 

will support comparative analysis--over time, across fisheries, and 

nationally. Activities to develop a common database involve economists 

and experts in information technology as well as social scientists 

knowledgeable about ethnography. These activities are coordinated with 

a NOAA science quality assurance project and the development of agency 

guidelines under the Information Quality Law, which covers all agency-

sponsored documents and presentations, including fisheries management 

plans signed by the agency’s secretary.[Footnote 12]

CDC’s Rapid Ethnographic Assessments Help Communities Respond to 

Outbreaks of Sexually Transmitted Disease:

CDC is the nation’s focus for developing and applying disease 

prevention and control, environmental health, and health promotion and 

education activities designed to improve the health of the people of 

the United States. One of today’s most critical public health 

challenges is controlling and preventing STDs, not only because they 

are the most frequently reported communicable diseases in the country 

but also because they cause largely preventable, severe, and costly 

complications in the nation’s most vulnerable populations.[Footnote 13] 

Toward this end, CDC’s Division of STD Prevention (DSTDP) employs the 

rapid assessment procedure, an ethnographic technique, to help state 

and local health departments develop STD prevention strategies. Often 

local health departments ask for assistance, but CDC also initiates the 

procedure, based on data that show increases in STD infection. In 

offering this technical assistance, DSTDP is faced with two challenges: 

(1) to identify the social and environmental causes of a disease 

outbreak in a local area and (2) to develop intervention strategies 

specific to the area in which the increase in STD is occurring to 

prevent further transmission of disease.

The rapid assessment procedure is concerned specifically with 

collecting information about beliefs and perceptions about health, the 

prevention and treatment of illness, and community members’ interaction 

with local health services. A team, usually consisting of four CDC 

staff members, including the senior research anthropologist in DSTDP 

plus others trained in public health, sociology, or psychology, 

typically comes from DSTDP but may include individuals from the HIV/

AIDS unit, if appropriate. The local health department that is the 

“customer” for the procedure sometimes contributes employees to assist 

in the effort.

Rapid assessment procedures have been conducted both during and after 

an STD outbreak. To prepare for a site visit, the team typically spends 

about 2 weeks collecting background information about the community 

through the Internet and other secondary data sources. Team members 

also talk with health department officials to identify key informants, 

and from this initial conversation, a list of people to talk with and 

places to go to “snowballs.”:

On arriving at the site, the team meets with local health officials to 

learn more about their needs in addressing the increase in STDs, learn 

their perceptions of existing problems, and identify areas and issues 

about which additional information is needed. Next, they enter the 

field to gather information from community members, including teachers; 

health personnel; community, youth, and religious leaders; bar owners; 

taxi drivers; prostitutes; and other people prominent in the target 

population. The team uses a rapid assessment procedure fieldwork guide, 

based on a widely available model.[Footnote 14] Many questions in the 

guide are open-ended regarding beliefs and perceptions of STDs in the 

community. For example, one question from the Los Angeles, California, 

ethnographic interview guide is, “What do you think life is like for 

HIV-positive men living in Los Angeles?” Another question is, “How 

would you describe the impact of STDs among communities of men having 

sex with men?” Broad, open-ended questions give the persons being 

interviewed the freedom to discuss a range of issues in the local 

context that they feel are important. The interview guide also includes 

more specific questions, called probe questions, that interviewers 

should ask only if the information has not already been addressed in 

earlier responses. An example is, “What about the idea that young men 

who have sex with men don’t know people who have HIV or who have died 

from AIDS and are more willing partners for that reason?”:

In addition to conducting interviews, the team looks for physical 

community characteristics that facilitate the transmission of disease-

-such as the presence of sex clubs and other establishments that are 

fertile ground for STDs--and for health program practices that are 

barriers to seeking care. Where relevant, team members may examine law 

enforcement or other institutional practices that impede disease 


The rapid assessment procedure team typically spends about a week in 

the field recording notes, following the procedures outlined in the 

background section of this report. At the end of the study, team 

members report findings to site officials and collaborate with the 

program officers and other stakeholders to develop recommendations. 

Recommendations focus on interventions at the structural or system 

level, such as changing procedures within the local health department, 

and are strictly advisory. However, DSTDP staff indicated that because 

DSTDP and the local officials develop the interventions 

collaboratively, with the intention of stopping the increase in STDs, 

local health officials are highly motivated to implement the 

recommendations. Recommendations often become the basis for designing 

educational materials for use in the social marketing of disease 

prevention practices. Examples that have been adopted include:

* Condoms and STD health services were introduced in the holding area 

in the Los Angeles County jail for male detainees when the rapid 

assessment procedure identified the lack of condoms as a source of 

increases in STDs.


* In Florida, a rapid assessment procedure identified gaps in the 

access among members of the Seminole tribe to health care. To improve 

awareness of sociocultural issues among health care providers, the 

local health department is developing a liaison with alternative health 

providers from the tribe.


These examples focus on site-specific benefits of the rapid assessment 

procedure. However, its successful use in certain communities has made 

it potentially useful as a guide for future work in similar 

communities. DSTDP’s records date only from 2002 and are thus too few, 

and the sites and populations are too dissimilar, to allow cross-site 

generalization. However, DSTDP staff indicated that they are 

accumulating data from urban sites in the hope of eventually being able 

to do cross-site analysis. They are also developing an evaluation 

instrument for the rapid assessment procedure that will take into 

account the method’s feasibility, acceptability, and value in different 

communities and that will focus on how CDC staff have improved the 

delivery of public health services.

Census Ethnographic Studies Inform the Enumeration of Populations That 

Are Difficult to Count:

As the premier source of information about America’s population, the 

Bureau of the Census strives to produce data that are accurate, timely, 

relevant, and cost-effective. It provides the population counts used to 

apportion seats in the House of Representatives, among other things. 

For the census, several challenges to accuracy have long been apparent-

-in particular, the challenges of constructing a comprehensive list of 

households to survey and of overcoming impediments to participation 

among certain racial and ethnic groups that have long been 

undercounted. Through its Statistical Research Division, the Bureau has 

shed light on these critical problems of data quality by sponsoring a 

series of studies by in-house and outside ethnographers that have 

documented undercounts and other enumeration errors, explored factors 

contributing to them, and led to recommendations for improvements in 

enumeration practice.

The series began in the late 1960s with an ethnographic study of a 

single block in a low-income urban neighborhood. The study revealed 

undercounts of adult men who were observed to be living in households 

but not reported to Census interviewers. The study’s authors concluded 

that women who filled out Census forms deliberately concealed the 

presence of adult males in the household to protect household resources 

such as public assistance and unreported income. However, since only 

one site was studied, there was no way of knowing how widespread this 

practice might be. Subsequent ethnographic studies of low-income urban 

areas and populations provided further evidence of concealment and 

suggested that ideological resistance to mainstream society, complex 

and ambiguous living arrangements, and varying beliefs about who should 

be considered to be “residing” in a household might also contribute to 


To further explore these emerging hypotheses, the 1988 Dress Rehearsal 

Census included ethnographic coverage evaluation studies in five sites 

encompassing various populations thought likely to be undercounted. 

Ethnographers documented the census day residence for all persons 

enumerated and compared their observed count to the “official” count 

for the same blocks; then ethnographers returned to the field to 

examine discrepancies. These studies revealed three major types of 


* undercounts from omitted households (persons in residences that were 

not on the Census’s address list or were erroneously listed as vacant),


* undercounts from omitted individuals (persons present in a residence 

but not included on the household roster), and


* overcounts from the same person’s being counted in more than one 

household--apparently as a result of extended families whose members 

(such as a mother or grandmother) circulated between several 

neighboring housing units.


However, the small number of sites and the lack of a standard format 

for recording data again limited what could be understood from these 


To assess these findings more systematically as part of the 1990 

census, Census’s Statistical Research Division sponsored ethnographic 

alternative enumerations in 29 rural and urban sites, about 100 

households each, encompassing a variety of undercounted racial and 

ethnic populations. The work was conducted by ethnographers outside the 

Bureau who had already established relationships with the sites. Each 

study team developed a complete list of all housing and people living 

in the area and recorded logs of systematic behavioral observations 

about aspects of the neighborhood, housing units, households, and 

people in the area that might have prevented a complete count. After 

the Bureau matched the ethnographers’ counts with the count obtained 

from Census forms returned by mail, the ethnographers returned to the 

field to examine discrepancies and confirm or correct the counts. In 

addition to providing alternative counts that revealed enumeration 

errors, the ethnographers’ studies identified five key factors that 

contributed to the disparity of accuracy in census counts for low-

income minority populations:

* irregular housing units that were missed in the census,


* complex or ambiguous households that made census residency rules 

difficult to apply,[Footnote 15]


* residential mobility,


* limited English proficiency, and


* distrust of government.


The studies also shed light on neighborhood housing and demographic 

conditions in which these barriers to accuracy were likely to arise--

potential hot spots for census coverage problems. As illustrated in 

figure 2, they yielded recommendations for addressing each factor.

Figure 2: Ethnographic Studies and Recommendations on Enumerating 

Populations Difficult to Count:

[See PDF for image]

[End of figure]

Social scientists at the Bureau joined data from the alternative 

enumeration to data from Census questionnaires to explore clustering 

among the sites and the relative values of explanatory variables--such 

as race, geography, or the relationship of an individual to the 

householder--on the prediction of census omissions and erroneous 

enumerations. (The Bureau had hoped to be able to use data from 

ethnographers’ observational logs, but these data were not sufficiently 

complete to sustain analysis.) Related efforts included a Bureau-

sponsored 1,000-household survey and semi-structured in-depth 

interviews on the subject of residence. Other related efforts were 

methodological studies testing an expanded roster approach that asked 

respondents to report persons with casual or tenuous attachments to the 

household as well as core members. The results of the ethnographic 

studies fed into planning for the 2000 census as well. The complexity 

of the planning and the many sources of input make it difficult to 

trace the influence of any one source. However, reports from panels of 

the National Academy of Sciences give evidence that the ethnographic 

studies were important in providing knowledge about the problems of 

enumerating urban and rural low-income populations, immigrants, and 

internal migrants. Like the ethnographic studies, the National Academy 

of Sciences reports recommended using ethnographic methods in hard-to-

enumerate areas, such as those characterized by a shortage of 

affordable housing, a high proportion of undocumented immigrants, and 

low-income neighborhoods. The 2000 census incorporated several 

procedures that were consistent with findings and recommendations from 

the ethnographic studies. The Bureau:

* asked local and tribal governments to review the accuracy and 

completeness of its addresses and field checked the resulting 

changes;[Footnote 16]6


* reworded the instructions for filling out the household roster, which 

now asks how many people were “living or staying” in the house on 

census day;


* made questionnaires and questionnaire guides available in additional 

languages and at community locations where residents could obtain help 

in filling them out;


* expanded its partnerships with local organizations, enlisting their 

assistance in recruiting temporary Census workers, providing space and 

volunteers for Questionnaire Assistance Centers, organizing 

promotional events, and customizing informational materials to address 

local residents’ concerns, and generally encouraging people--

especially hard-to-count populations--to participate in the census;


* instituted a paid advertising campaign that included local and 

national census advertising; and:

* called on local Census offices to develop plans for following up with 

nonresponding households in hard-to-enumerate areas in their:

* jurisdictions--for example, using bilingual enumerators in immigrant 

neighborhoods or paired/team enumerators in high-crime areas.


As we have noted in earlier reports, these practices reflect the 

Bureau’s recognition that a successful head count requires calling on 

local knowledge, expertise, and experience. The change to a more 

localized approach signals a change in the Bureau’s culture, in which 

centralized control and standardized methods were traditionally 

paramount. Census’s Statistical Research Division staff saw this change 

in culture as an important result of the ethnographic studies.

DOD Combined Structured and Ethnographic Surveys of Youths to Better 

Target Its Recruiting Program:

An example from DOD illustrates the use of ethnographic surveys to 

augment information gathered from a national survey and identify 

factors that affect young people’s propensity to join the military. 

Recruiting and retaining a high-quality, diverse work force is 

essential to meeting DOD’s personnel and readiness goals, and youths 

are the major source of new entrants into the military. Thus, 

information about youths’ opinions, attitudes, and beliefs about the 

military and their propensity to enlist is of vital interest to 

recruitment commands and DOD personnel managers. Youths’ attitudes 

toward the military were monitored from 1975 through 1999 through a 

national telephone survey called the Youth Attitudes Tracking Study 

(YATS). In the mid-1990s, YATS data showed a steep decline in a 

propensity to join the military across the spectrum of American youths. 

However, the design of the survey--which measures propensity through 

exactly worded questions to allow valid comparisons across years and 

ethnic groups--did not allow probes into why a person responded in a 

particular manner.

To obtain insight into propensity, DOD engaged a social science 

research firm to conduct a series of ethnographic surveys linked to 

YATS. The first survey, which focused on young men, illustrates the 

approach. The study sample was drawn from young men in the prime 

military recruiting market--high school seniors aged 17 to 21 and high 

school graduates--who had responded to YATS in fall 1995. It was evenly 

divided between blacks, whites, and Hispanics and by four categories of 

propensity, as shown by responses to items in YATS:

* joiners--most likely to join the military;


* nonjoiners--least likely to join the military;


* shifters--had seriously considered joining but changed their minds;


* fence-sitters--had given both positive and negative responses about 

joining the military.


The final sample of 120 men was monitored for balance in 

characteristics such as age, employment, and geography. Although not 

statistically representative, it covered all major areas, groups, and 

levels of interest in the military.

Respondents participated in in-depth telephone interviews with a small 

number of senior and midlevel researchers. Telephone interviewing was 

selected because travel costs would have made face-to-face interviewing 

prohibitively expensive and because initial interviews had demonstrated 

that rapport could be adequately maintained over the telephone. 

Interviewers--who were matched to participants by race and ethnicity--

used a 45-minute structured interview protocol that covered the career 

decision-making process, consideration of military enlistment, and 

knowledge of the military way of life. The instrument included probes 

to clarify or uncover the deeper meaning of responses but was designed 

to allow respondents to describe and reflect on their decision 

processes in their own words. Interviews were voluntarily taped, and 

each was transcribed verbatim. Using iterative procedures similar to 

those depicted in figure 1, the researchers reviewed the transcripts, 

using a set of broad analytic questions, and reviewed them a second 

time, looking particularly at factors associated with propensity. (One 

analytic question asked whether there were systematic differences 

between respondents’ stories as they considered entering the military 

as enlisted personnel versus entering as officers.) Responses to 

questions about knowledge of the military were tabulated, as were 

responses to questions on income that required a numeric answer.

Similar procedures were used with subsequent studies of young women 

(based on 1997 YATS), young Hispanic men (1997 YATS), and parents of 

young men who participated in the 1998 YATS. In each case, questions 

were adapted to the population being studied. For example, the survey 

of women asked about how, if at all, plans for having a family 

influenced the respondent’s choice of future activities and about 

perceptions of difference in the military experience for young men and 

young women. The survey for Hispanics asked about the family’s origin, 

how many generations of the family had been in the United States, and 

whether the family’s experience with the military in the country of 

origin had affected the respondent’s views about military service in 

the United States. The parents’ study was prompted by evidence from 

other DOD reports concerning the importance of parents as influences on 

youths’ career decision making. It probed their role in their sons’ 

career decision making and the image of the military that they had and 

that they conveyed to their sons.

To inform its recruitment advertising, DOD also supported interview 

studies of parents and others, such as educators and family friends, 

who influence youths’ career decisions. These studies, carried out by a 

different firm and reported in 2001 and 2002, were conducted through 

face-to-face interviews and had a qualitative component. Like the 

ethnographic surveys of youths, the surveys of influencers included 

open-ended questions and follow-up probes. However, other aspects of 

the youth-influencer surveys did not reflect ethnography. Their 

approach was based on theories of individual decision making drawn from 

psychology, and interviewers were trained in psychological 

interviewing. Although noting that social norms also drive future 

behavior, the researchers focused on self-esteem and the role of deeply 

held values, such as personal security and love of family--in this 

case, values that drive influencers’ choices when recommending military 

service or other options to youths.

Data collection and analysis followed the Values in Strategy Assessment 

(VISTA™) method for mapping the factors important in consumer decision 

making, and the interview guide included many fixed-response questions 

in addition to those that were open-ended. The method was designed to 

support the development of psychological profiles of potential users of 

a product and was used to develop strategies for communication 

campaigns--in this case, DOD recruiting ads aimed at adult influencers.

The first of these examples from DOD illustrates that using 

ethnographic techniques can follow up on and yield a deeper 

understanding of data from structured surveys. The decision to use 

telephone rather than face-to-face interviewing illustrates how methods 

can be adapted to fit the circumstances. The second example supports 

our earlier observation that qualitative techniques like those used in 

ethnography are also used in studies rooted in other disciplines.

Concluding Observations:

In reviewing information from our overview and the four case studies, 

we observed that in each example, ethnography helped obtain previously 

unavailable information about beliefs and behaviors that was important 

to the federal program’s ability to attain its objectives--information 

that could not be readily obtained by other methods. The studies were 

not done merely to add to general knowledge about the groups studied. 

They also addressed program-related issues, such as whether families in 

Early Head Start are comfortable with a Montessori approach or how to 

allocate fishery harvests fairly among the people affected by them.

Grouping our examples, we identified four major study designs and the 

uses they were put to, as shown in table 2. Reviewing this table and 

the studies it lists, we offer some concluding observations that may 

help agencies and the Congress determine when ethnographic approaches 

may help answer questions about a program.

Table 2: Ethnographic Study Designs and Uses:

Nature of study: Site-specific field studies that address a local issue 

at a particular point in time and support local action to respond to 

it; Example: * CDC studies of STD outbreaks; * DOD study of Antarctic 

over-wintering; * Anthropologists’ work with communities to protect 

source water for EPA; * NMFS community-specific SIAs; * NPS studies of 

culturally meaningful sites.

Nature of study: Site-specific field studies that alert agency staff to 

a potentially widespread phenomenon (or demonstrate the absence of a 

hypothesized phenomenon) and to the need for further investigation or 

action; Example: * Early Census studies of low-income urban sites; * 

HHS studies of two Montessori sites in EHS evaluation; * Justice 

studies of street gangs.

Nature of study: Multi-site field studies or observations using a 

common framework, intended to support comparisons across sites and over 

time or for program evaluation or planning purposes at the national 

level. May also support site-specific actions; Example: * 1990 Census 

alternative enumeration studies; * CDC rapid assessment procedure data 

as information from more sites becomes available; * Labor evaluation of 

Youth Opportunity Act initiative; * NOAA framework for future community 

profiles; * Observations on drug use fed into Pulse Check for ONDCP.

Nature of study: Interview studies to explore more deeply beliefs or 

behaviors suggested by previous research and (if based on a systematic 

sample) to produce results that can be generalized to a broad 

population and inform program changes at the national level; Example: * 

Census cognitive interviewing and ethnographic survey regarding 

residency terms; * DOD ethnographic surveys with YATS respondents.

[End of table]

Source: GAO analysis.

Single-site ethnographic field studies can be valuable for addressing 

problems specific to a site and for raising red flags--discovering 

phenomena important to a program that may be widespread and that may 

merit further investigation. Combined with other evidence from a larger 

sample, field studies of small numbers of sites can also help 

disconfirm a suspected problem (such as discomfort with the Montessori 

approach to early childhood education). However, such studies have an 

important limitation. Findings from a single site or a small number of 

sites cannot be generalized to a broader population and, thus, are not 

sufficient to inform change in a national program.

The limitations of single-site field studies can be overcome by 

(1) obtaining sufficient site-specific studies to reliably identify 

recurring themes or issues and (2) arranging for field researchers to 

gather and report a common core of data in terms of a common framework, 

while leaving them open to the discovery of additional information. 

Having this common core facilitates cross-site analysis, site analysis 

over time, and linking ethnographic to economic or other data.

* Information from multiple field sites can be obtained by design or 

accretion. For the 1990 alternative enumeration studies, the Bureau of 

the Census selected the 29 sites to ensure coverage of the range of 

groups and living situations that were difficult to enumerate. CDC and 

NMFS sought to achieve broad coverage over time as community studies 



* One way to build in a common framework is to have in-house staff do 

the fieldwork, as at CDC. For agencies that rely on outside experts 

accustomed to working independently, commonality may be more difficult 

to achieve. Some of the ethnographers conducting the 1990 alternative 

census enumerations did not collect the full set of data the Bureau had 

asked for, and the aggregate data set was not sufficiently complete to 

sustain analysis. Whether NMFS will succeed in obtaining specified core 

data in profiles of fishing communities remains to be seen. However, 

NMFS has more than a decade of experience and studies to draw on for 

crafting guidelines, as well as long experience with the academic 

experts and contract firms that conduct SIAs. This experience, along 

with increased NMFS staffing and program direction, may make a 



When initial information about a situation is available from previous 

fieldwork or other research, and the population of interest is 

scattered geographically, an ethnographic survey of a systematic sample 

of that population can be used to obtain broadly applicable findings 

that can inform decisions about national programs.


[1] For a comprehensive discussion of ethnographic methods, see Jean J. 

Schensul and Margaret D. Le Compte (eds.), Ethnographer’s Toolkit 

(Walnut Creek, Calif.: AltaMira Press, 1999).

[2] In addition to these general techniques, ethnography has 

specialized techniques for mapping social networks or spatial data, 

audiovisual techniques, and focused group interviewing. Schensul and 

LeCompte (eds.), vols. 3 and 4, discuss these methods.

[3] Analysis refers to the process of coding, counting, tallying, and 

summarizing so as to reduce field notes to manageable form and to 

reveal patterns and themes. Analysis enables the ethnographer to tell a 

story about the group that is the focus of research. Interpretation 

permits the ethnographer to tell readers what the story means.

[4] Schensul and Le Compte (eds.), Ethnographer’s Toolkit, vols. 2-4, 

address these issues in connection with a variety of methods.

[5] EPA, “Community, Culture, and the Environment: A Guide to 

Understanding a Sense of Place,” Washington, D.C., November 2002.

[6] The conference is reported in Looking at Crime from the Street 

Level: Plenary Papers of the 1999 Conference on Criminal Justice 

Research and Evaluation--Enhancing Policy and Practice through 

Research, vol. I (Washington, D.C.: Department of Justice, 1999).

[7] 16 U.S.C. §§1853-63 (2000). The act gave this responsibility to the 

Secretary of Commerce, who delegated it to NMFS. 

[8] Examples include the National Environmental Policy Act and 

Executive Order 12898 on Environmental Justice.

[9] U.S. General Accounting Office, Individual Fishing Quotas: Better 

Information Could Improve Program Management, GAO-03-159 (Washington, 

D.C.: Dec. 11, 2002).

[10] 16 U.S.C. §1851(a)(8)(2000).

[11] Groundfish are fishes that swim near the bottom, such as cod, 

haddock, and flounder.

[12] Treasury and General Government Appropriation Act, 2001, §515, 

Pub. L. 106-554, H.R. 5658.

[13] STDs have severe consequences for women and infants (especially 

ethnic and racial minority populations).

[14] Susan Scrimshaw and Elena Hurtado, Rapid Assessment Procedures for 

Nutrition and Primary Health Care: Anthropological Approaches to 

Improving Programme Effectiveness (New York: United Nations University, 


[15] Such households may include unrelated individuals, mobile members, 

persons whose only connection is that they share the rent or other 

costs, or households that contain two or more nuclear families. 

[16] [6] The Local Update of Census Addresses program was implemented 

pursuant to the Census Address List Improvement Act, Pub. L. 103-430.

GAO’s Mission:

The General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, 

exists to support Congress in meeting its constitutional 

responsibilities and to help improve the performance and accountability 

of the federal government for the American people. GAO examines the use 

of public funds; evaluates federal programs and policies; and provides 

analyses, recommendations, and other assistance to help Congress make 

informed oversight, policy, and funding decisions. GAO’s commitment to 

good government is reflected in its core values of accountability, 

integrity, and reliability.

Obtaining Copies of GAO Reports and Testimony:

The fastest and easiest way to obtain copies of GAO documents at no 

cost is through the Internet. GAO’s Web site ( ) contains 

abstracts and full-text files of current reports and testimony and an 

expanding archive of older products. The Web site features a search 

engine to help you locate documents using key words and phrases. You 

can print these documents in their entirety, including charts and other 


Each day, GAO issues a list of newly released reports, testimony, and 

correspondence. GAO posts this list, known as “Today’s Reports,” on its 

Web site daily. The list contains links to the full-text document 

files. To have GAO e-mail this list to you every afternoon, go to and select “Subscribe to daily E-mail alert for newly 

released products” under the GAO Reports heading.

Order by Mail or Phone:

The first copy of each printed report is free. Additional copies are $2 

each. A check or money order should be made out to the Superintendent 

of Documents. GAO also accepts VISA and Mastercard. Orders for 100 or 

more copies mailed to a single address are discounted 25 percent. 

Orders should be sent to:

U.S. General Accounting Office

441 G Street NW,

Room LM Washington,

D.C. 20548:

To order by Phone: 	

	Voice: (202) 512-6000:

	TDD: (202) 512-2537:

	Fax: (202) 512-6061:

To Report Fraud, Waste, and Abuse in Federal Programs:


Web site: E-mail:

Automated answering system: (800) 424-5454 or (202) 512-7470:

Public Affairs:

Jeff Nelligan, managing director, (202) 512-4800 U.S.

General Accounting Office, 441 G Street NW, Room 7149 Washington, D.C.