2000 Census: Better Productivity Data Needed for Future Planning and Budgeting

GAO-02-4 Published: Oct 04, 2001. Publicly Released: Oct 04, 2001.
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Nonresponse follow-up was the most expensive and labor-intensive of all Census 2000 operations. The Census Bureau spent $1.2 billion and used more than 500,000 enumerators to obtain census information from 42 million nonresponding households in less than 10 weeks. Because of this colossal workload, even small variations in productivity had significant cost implications. Workload and enumerator productivity have historically been two of the largest drivers of census costs, and the Bureau developed its budget model for the 2000 Census using key assumptions about these two variables. Nationally, enumerators completed their nonresponse follow-up workload at a rate of 1.04 housing units per hour--slightly exceeding the Bureau's expected rate of 1.03 housing units per hour. Productivity varied for the four primary types of local census offices, ranging from 0.90 housing units per hour in inner-city and urban areas to 1.10 cases per hour in rural areas. In refining the data, the Bureau corrected what it considered to be the most significant discrepancy--a misclassification of some employees' time charges that overstated the number of hours worked by nonresponse follow-up enumerators and understated enumerator production rates.

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Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
U.S. Census Bureau To ensure that the Bureau develops a baseline of reliable productivity data for evaluating nonresponse follow-up and informing future planning decisions, the Secretary of Commerce should direct the Bureau to, as part of its planning effort for the 2010 Census, (1) determine the productivity measures needed to assess nonresponse follow-up and (2) design procedures, information systems, and quality control mechanisms to capture and analyze those measures consistent with nonresponse follow-up's operational requirements. Possible measures include average number of hours worked by enumerators, cases completed per production hour, and number of cases completed per enumerator. The data should, at a minimum, support the analysis of variation in these measures by census region and type of local census office.
Closed – Implemented
The Census Bureau agreed with this recommendation and is designing procedures, information systems, and quality controls measures to reliably capture nonresponse follow-up measures. The Bureau intends to contract out 2010 field data collection for nonresponse follow-up and other census operations. As part of the contract, the Bureau is requiring that a field operations control process be in place to manage, monitor, and control field data collection. This includes tracking all assignments in the workload from beginning to end, checking in all work, recording the status of data (population counts for housing units), recording daily cost and progress, and reassigning work when needed. In addition, field operations control is required to be integrated with payroll, quality control and other data needs. This integration will provide managers at all levels with a global view of the current status, cost, and quality of operations and enable them to make timely and information-based decisions.

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