The Census Bureau Needs To Plan Now for a More Automated 1990 Decennial Census

GGD-83-10: Published: Jan 11, 1983. Publicly Released: Feb 9, 1983.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the 1980 census data processing procedures to identify the reasons for the time the Bureau of the Census needs to publish the data and to determine whether changes in procedures and equipment could reduce the time and cost involved.

Processing 88 million questionnaires which contain 3 billion items of data on the nation's population and housing is an enormous task; because of the large volume of data, the desire for accuracy, and a great reliance on manual procedures, the Bureau expects to take 3.5 years to process the data. The time required to perform clerical operations contributed to a 1-year slip in the publishing schedule. Other problems included: the underestimation of housing units, uncertain funding, data errors, and the need to update boundaries. Since the early 1970's, when planning started for the 1980 census, the automatic data processing (ADP) industry has made major technical advances which could provide the Bureau with the opportunity to automate much of the manual processing and lower future census processing time and costs. GAO stated that, although the Bureau has expressed an interest in increased automation, its initial planning efforts for the 1990 census need better coordination and development coupled with a provision for the amount of time required to acquire and test new equipment.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: A decision was made to continue to use basic data entry equipment used in prior censuses. A cost comparison was not made. There was poor procurement planning. The questionnaire was not redesigned, but a system of automated coding is planned.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Commerce should require the Director, Bureau of the Census, to develop a 1990 census plan that includes decision points for evaluating the acquisition, testing, and installation of ADP equipment that are based on past times for planning the 1980 census and acquiring new ADP equipment. The plan should provide for: (1) an analysis of alternative data processing systems that meet census needs and identify the total cost to perform the task including acquisition, maintenance, and personnel; (2) the possibility of redesigning the 1980 census questionnaire to eliminate or reduce responses requiring manual coding; (3) an estimate of the expected time to release 1990 census databased on data processing improvements; (4) clearly defining the responsibilities of the organizational units working on Census Bureau ADP modernization and identify how their activities will be integrated with 1990 census planning; (5) a budget for implementing the plan with initial funding requested in the Census Bureau's fiscal year (FY) 1984 budget submission to Congress; and (6) internal periodic reports to assess the progress of the plan and identify any revisions needed.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce


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