Decennial Census:

Pretests Could Be Used More Effectively in Census Planning

GGD-87-24BR: Published: Jan 8, 1987. Publicly Released: Jan 13, 1987.

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Gene L. Dodaro
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In response to a congressional request, GAO assisted Congress in its oversight of the Census Bureau's 1990 decennial census planning efforts by monitoring the Bureau's 1986 pretest in Los Angeles, California, and Meridian, Mississippi.

GAO found that: (1) the Bureau completed the pretest on schedule; (2) centralized recruitment and daily management reports ensured sufficient staffing and timely completion of the follow-up operations; (3) unclear contract specifications for printing vendors contributed to questionnaire delivery mix-ups; (4) a lack of coordination with the U.S. Postal Service resulted in presorting problems in Los Angeles; (5) limited testing of software programs for some activities resulted in technical difficulties, requiring revised keying procedures and reliance on manual reports; (6) no evaluations of the 1986 office configurations or data capture technologies were available for the Bureau's decisions to establish 10 to 14 processing offices and to use a modified sensing device for input to computer technology; (7) although the Bureau budgeted $18.1 million for the 1986 pretest, it did not collect complete cost and productivity data from the test to project 1990 costs; and (8) the Bureau charged some direct costs from the test to 1990 projects or indirect cost accounts, resulting in underreporting of 1986 costs. GAO believes that: (1) the Bureau could do more to improve available information for the 1990 census; and (2) the Bureau needs to identify and resolve some of the seemingly minor problems experienced during the pretest, which could present major problems on a nationwide scale in 1990.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Bureau is collecting cost and productivity data from the 1987 and 1988 test censuses. It has made the major methodological decisions for the 1990 census. The Bureau is working on its plans for the 2000 census by formulating its experimental program for the 1990 census and it has established a special planning group for future censuses.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Commerce should require the Director, Bureau of the Census, to improve planning and decisionmaking for the 1990 census and future decennials by: (1) obtaining cost and productivity data from the Bureau's tests to accurately and completely measure test results; (2) integrating planning and test results to ensure the completion of test evaluations before scheduled decision dates; and (3) beginning earlier planning and testing for future decennials to maximize the benefits of exploring new technology.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce


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