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Highlights

The U.S. Census Bureau (Bureau) had planned to rely heavily on automation in conducting the 2010 Census, including using handheld computers (HHC) to verify addresses. Citing concerns about escalating costs, in March 2008 the Secretary of Commerce announced a redesign of the key automation effort. GAO was asked to (1) analyze Bureau and contractor data showing how HHCs operated and their impact on operations, and (2) examine implications the redesign may have on plans for address canvassing in the 2010 Census. GAO reviewed Bureau and contractor data, evaluations, and other documents on HHC performance and staff productivity; interviewed Bureau and contractor officials; and visited the two dress rehearsal sites to observe and document the use of the HHCs in the field.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Commerce 1. To ensure that the Bureau addresses key challenges facing its implementation of the address canvassing operation for the 2010 Census, the Secretary of Commerce should direct the Bureau to specify the basis for determining the readiness of the FDCA solution for address canvassing and when and how this determination will occur--when the Bureau would say that the contractor's solution meets its operational needs.
Closed - Implemented
The Bureau followed GAO's recommendation that the Secretary of Commerce direct the Bureau to specify the basis for determining the readiness of the Field Data Collection Automation (FDCA) solution for address canvassing and when and how this determination will occur--when the Bureau would say that the contractor's solution meets its operational needs. They did so by specifying readiness criteria associated with the HHCs for address canvassing and established that the basis for determining the readiness criteria would be an assessment of each of the core requirements supporting the deployment and conduct of address canvassing. The desired performance requirements for handheld computers were established and final agreement was reached with Harris (the contractor) in September 2008. The review of Harris' technical performance was done on January 21, 2009 to determine their readiness to deploy on February 3, 2009. The Bureau said that Harris was ready and gave concurrence to go into operation on February 3.
Department of Commerce 2. To ensure that the Bureau addresses key challenges facing its implementation of the address canvassing operation for the 2010 Census, the Secretary of Commerce should direct the Bureau to specify how data collection in large blocks will be conducted in parallel with the address canvassing operation, and how this dual-track will be tested in order to ensure it will function as planned.
Closed - Implemented
The Census Bureau acted on our recommendation to specify how data collection in large blocks will be conducted in parallel with the address canvassing operation, and how this dual-track will be tested in order to ensure it will function as planned. On September 3, 2008 the Bureau laid out its testing plans that described how the large block canvassing operation would be conducted ("Census 2010: 2010 Census Address Canvassing Large Block Testing Plan" by James Hartman and Robert Colosi).
Department of Commerce 3. To ensure that the Bureau addresses key challenges facing its implementation of the address canvassing operation for the 2010 Census, the Secretary of Commerce should direct the Bureau to specify the benchmarks for measures used to evaluate the HHC performance during address canvassing.
Closed - Implemented
The Bureau specified the benchmarks for measures used to evaluate the HHC performance during address canvassing as we recommended. This was documented in an excel spreadsheet which laid out both performance requirements and benchmarks, such as: The Field Data Collection Automation (FDCA) shall distribute software and data updates to all FDCA MCE devices currently in operation in field in less than 24 hours for a 500K bytes download and in less than 48 hours for a complete software download; and The recharge time for an HHC device shall be less than 8 (TBD) hours.
Department of Commerce 4. To ensure that the Bureau addresses key challenges facing its implementation of the address canvassing operation for the 2010 Census, the Secretary of Commerce should direct the Bureau to use the dashboard to monitor performance of the HHCs in the operational field test of address canvassing.
Closed - Implemented
During the December 2008 Address Canvassing Operational Field Test, the contractor used the enterprise management system to monitor performance in their Network Operations Center/Security Operations Center in Reston, VA--this system is part of the dashboard where connectivity and system performance was monitored.

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