Decennial Census:

Overview of Historical Census Issues

GGD-98-103: Published: May 1, 1998. Publicly Released: May 1, 1998.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on historical census issues and reviewed the Census Bureau's plans for the 2000 census. GAO did not evaluate the potential for success, or make recommendations, regarding the 2000 census.

GAO noted that: (1) the framers of the Constitution established a requirement for the national government to undertake the census, and described, in general terms, how it should be accomplished; (2) while apportionment is the most widely known use of census data, the data are also used for congressional redistricting, managing federal agencies, and allocating federal funds, and are disseminated to state and local governments, academia, and the private sector as well; (3) for the 2000 Census, the Bureau is planning to rely on a Master Address File, which is to be developed, in part, from the Bureau's 1990 Census address list and the most recent Postal Service address list; (4) the Bureau plans to conduct a 100-percent canvass of all census blocks in early 1999 and will request the Postal Service to validate the city-style addresses prior to the delivery of 2000 Census questionnaires; (5) the Bureau is planning for enumerators to deliver the questionnaires and ask that they be mailed back; (6) the Bureau will focus its efforts to count the homeless in the places where many of them come for services, such as shelters and soup kitchens, as well as targeted outdoor locations; (7) the Bureau has decided to use a paid advertising campaign in 2000 to complement its continuing efforts with its organizational partners; (8) the Bureau is researching the use of questionnaires in additional languages; (9) in order to improve mail response rate, the Bureau is planning to use a new, multiple mail contact strategy; (10) the Bureau plans to use two new sampling procedures in the 2000 census designed to: (a) reduce the time required for and expense of following up on the projected 40 million housing units that may not respond in 2000 to the questionnaires; and (b) adjust the population counts obtained from census questionnaires and nonresponsive follow-up procedures to eliminate the endemic differential undercount; (11) the cost of the census has steadily increased over 200 years, and the rate of increase will continue to escalate with the 2000 Census; (12) the 2000 Census will rely on computer technology to a greater extent than ever before; and (13) several thousand full-time employees from Bureau headquarters are expected to work on the 2000 Decennial Census.

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