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Highlights

To overcome the long-standing challenge of enumerating hard-to-count (HTC) groups such as minorities and renters, the U.S. Census Bureau (Bureau), used outreach programs, such as paid advertising, and partnered with thousands of organizations to enlist their support for the census. The Bureau also conducted Service-Based Enumeration (SBE), which was designed to count people who frequent soup kitchens or other service providers, and the Be Counted/Questionnaire Assistance Center (QAC) program, designed to count individuals who believed the census had missed them. As requested, GAO assessed how the design of these efforts compared to 2000 and the extent to which they were implemented as planned. GAO reviewed Bureau budget, planning, operational, and evaluation documents; observed enumeration efforts in 12 HTC areas; surveyed local census office managers; and interviewed Bureau officials.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Commerce To help improve the effectiveness of the Bureau's outreach and enumeration efforts, especially for HTC populations, should they be used again in the 2020 Census, and to improve the Bureau's marketing/outreach efforts, the Secretary of Commerce should require the Under Secretary for Economic Affairs as well as the Director of the U.S. Census Bureau to use evaluation results, response rate, and other data to develop a predictive model that would inform decisions on how much and how best to allocate paid media funds for 2020.
Closed - Implemented
The Department generally agreed with this recommendation. During 2013, the Bureau reported on the agency's assessments of the 2010 communications campaign. The Bureau concluded that extra investment of advertising in certain markets increased awareness of the Census. During 2015, the Bureau conducted research and testing on activities to support planning for the 2020 communications campaign. The Bureau based its testing, in part, on evaluation results of paid media activities from the 2010 integrated communications program. In December 2018, the Bureau provided us with the study plans for its use of predictive modeling to support the 2020 Integrated Partnership and Communications Program. These plans describe the Bureau's use of data, including from the 2010 Census and the American Community Survey to help identify census tracts: (1) predicted to have lower levels of self-response; and (2) where self-response is expected to occur primarily through the Internet. In addition, these plans describe how these models will help guide decisions on allocation of marketing resources for 2020. Informed decision-making based on predictive modeling will allow the Bureau to determine geographic areas and demographic groups that will require more media attention and resources to encourage self-response during the 2020 Census.
Department of Commerce To help improve the effectiveness of the Bureau's outreach and enumeration efforts, especially for HTC populations, should they be used again in the 2020 Census, and improve the Bureau's marketing/outreach efforts, the Secretary of Commerce should require the Under Secretary for Economic Affairs as well as the Director of the U.S. Census Bureau to develop mechanisms to increase coordination and communication between the partnership and local census office staff. Possible actions include offering more opportunities for joint training, establishing protocols for coordination, and more effectively leveraging the partnership contact database to better align partnership outreach activities with local needs.
Open
The Department generally agreed with this recommendation. In 2011, the Bureau reported on the agency's assessment of the partnership program. In September 2014, the Bureau's Path to the 2020 Census, identified the Partnership Program as one of the best methods for communicating the importance of response and states its intent to map out details about the Partnership Program in early 2016. As of March 2018, Bureau officials said they were developing coordination mechanisms between partnership and Area Census Office staff for the 2020 Census. For example, the Bureau updated a form it had used during the 2010 Census to track partnership outreach activities to help facilitate information sharing within the Bureau and said it plans to make additional updates. In March 2019, the Bureau informed us that it is assigning at least one partnership specialist to each census office manager to help address this recommendation. As we reported in May 2020, the Bureau had not put in place expectations for how Partnership staff should support area census office staff. We also reported that pluralities of area census office managers we surveyed in March 2020 were dissatsified with the level of clarity of roles and responsibilities of Partnership staff, as well as the level of communication and coordination between Partnership and office staff. To fully implement this recommendation, the Bureau will need to take such steps as documenting for partnership specialists and their area census office manager how they are expected to work together and other significant mechanisms that would increase effectiveness of coordination and communication between partnership and local field office staff. The Bureau did not take action to implement this recommendation for the 2020 Census. We will continue to monitor this recommendation to ensure that the Bureau take action later in the decade as the 2030 Census approaches.
Department of Commerce To help improve the effectiveness of the Bureau's outreach and enumeration efforts, especially for HTC populations, should they be used again in the 2020 Census, and to improve the Bureau's marketing/outreach efforts, the Secretary of Commerce should require the Under Secretary for Economic Affairs as well as the Director of the U.S. Census Bureau to improve the user-friendliness of the partnership database to help ensure more timely updates of contact information and enhance its use as a management tool.
Closed - Implemented
The Department generally agreed with this recommendation. In 2012, the Bureau issued an assessment of the partnership program that highlighted user problems with the partnership database. One of the report's recommendations was to ensure ease of data entry for users of the Integrated Partner Contact Database (IPCD). In 2014, the Bureau reported the agency is continuing to make modifications to the Integrated Partner Contact Database (IPCD) system and discussing options for improving the efficiency and usability of the IPCD. In March 2018 Bureau officials told us the interfaces on the database were still being refined. In December 2018 Bureau officials told us they were developing requirements for their Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system to improve its user-friendliness. As of July 2020, the Bureau provided documentation demonstrating that they had tested the user-friendliness and functionality of CRM with a range of Bureau users via user acceptance testing. Documentation also showed that further refinements were made to CRM in response to feedback provided by users during this testing phase. As a result, the Bureau and its partners are better positioned to share information on outreach activities, and the Bureau can more easily coordinate efforts across national and community partnership portfolios.
Department of Commerce To help improve the effectiveness of the Bureau's outreach and enumeration efforts, especially for HTC populations, should they be used again in the 2020 Census, and to improve the Bureau's marketing/outreach efforts, the Secretary of Commerce should require the Under Secretary for Economic Affairs as well as the Director of the U.S. Census Bureau to ensure that promotional materials, including in-language materials for the partnership program, are available when partnership staff are first hired.
Closed - Implemented
The Department generally agreed with this recommendation. In 2011, the Bureau issued an assessment of the partnership program. One of the report's recommendations was to provide promotional materials that fit partner needs. During April 2014, the Bureau reported its staff in the field and communications directorates have plans to review assessments, lessons learned reports and debriefings with key staff, stakeholders, and partners to inform an effective strategy for the development, production, and delivery of promotional materials, including non-English language materials, for the 2020 Census. As of March 2019, Bureau officials informed us that they were in the middle of ramping up their hiring of partnership staff and provided to us copies of partnership and outreach materials already developed. As of December 2019 we have ongoing work on the Bureau's 2020 partnership and outreach activities that will be providing updates to this recommendation. As of April 2020, the Bureau had provided us a list of promotional materials that were made available online and in 13 languages for partnership specialists. The Bureau reported that all of these materials were made available to partnership specialists by the time they completed their training in December 2019. The Bureau also provided guidance to partnership specialists on how to order hard copies of these materials from the U.S. Government Publishing Office. We found that these actions, taken together, implement the recommendation and help the Bureau position its partnership specialists to be effective agents of the Bureau's outreach strategy.
Department of Commerce To help improve the effectiveness of the Bureau's outreach and enumeration efforts, especially for HTC populations, should they be used again in the 2020 Census, and to improve some of the Bureau's key efforts to enumerate HTC populations, the Secretary of Commerce should require the Under Secretary for Economic Affairs as well as the Director of the U.S. Census Bureau to assess visitation, response rate, and other applicable data on Be Counted/QAC locations and use that information to revise site selection guidance for 2020.
Closed - Not Implemented
The Department generally agreed with this recommendation. In May 2012 the Bureau reported on its assessment of the Be Counted/Questionnaire Assistance Center program. The assessment included information on the number of individuals counted and number of locations established but did not identify response rates or other use patterns by respondents in hard-to enumerate groups. In April 2013, the Bureau reported on its assessment of coverage measurement issues related to hard-to-enumerate populations, but that reporting did not address the use of Be Counted/QAC locations. In December 2018, Bureau officials informed us that the 2020 Census would not be relying on Be Counted forms, QACs, and instead would rely on local partners to determine where best to conduct any special outreach efforts or events. As such, we consider this recommendation closed and not implemented.
Department of Commerce To help improve the effectiveness of the Bureau's outreach and enumeration efforts, especially for HTC populations, should they be used again in the 2020 Census, and to improve some of the Bureau's key efforts to enumerate HTC populations, the Secretary of Commerce should require the Under Secretary for Economic Affairs as well as the Director of the U.S. Census Bureau to determine the factors that led to the staffing issues observed during SBE and take corrective actions to ensure more efficient SBE staffing levels in 2020.
Closed - Implemented
The Department generally agreed with this recommendation. In September 2012, the Bureau issued its assessment of the Service Based Enumeration Program. The assessment reported on the number of individuals counted and the complexities of this special enumeration activity. Our 2020 review of the implementation of peak field operations for the 2020 Census found that staffing levels for SBE took into account the factors that led to inefficient staffing allocation in the 2010 Census and tests leading up to 2020. Such factors included facility type, the expected maximum populations of facilities, and planned hours of enumeration per site. The Bureau also changed its approach for 2020 to staff SBE enumerations on an enumerator-to-respondent ratio, as opposed to an enumerator-per-facility ratio. As a result of these actions we consider this recommendation implemented.
Department of Commerce
Priority Rec.
This is a priority recommendation.
To help improve the effectiveness of the Bureau's outreach and enumeration efforts, especially for HTC populations, should they be used again in the 2020 Census, and to improve some of the Bureau's key efforts to enumerate HTC populations, the Secretary of Commerce should require the Under Secretary for Economic Affairs as well as the Director of the U.S. Census Bureau to evaluate the extent to which each special enumeration activity improved the count of traditionally hard-to-enumerate groups and use the results to help inform decision making on spending for these programs in 2020.
Open
The Department generally agreed with this recommendation. In 2012, the Bureau reported on assessments of many 2010 special enumeration activities such as the Service-Based Enumeration and the Be Counted/Questionnaire Assistance Center Programs. These assessments revealed the number of persons counted and spending for the special enumeration activities. Separately, the Bureau issued results of the 2010 Census Coverage Measurement Program that described the level of coverage of various hard-to-enumerate populations generally without attributing coverage to specific enumeration activities. Since 2015, the Bureau has issued annual updates of its 2020 Census Operational Plans, which did not provide details of plans for various special enumeration activities. The Bureau did not take sufficient action to implement this recommendation for the 2020 Census. As of May 2021, to fully implement this recommendation, the Bureau needs to demonstrate how it is relying on data about how various special enumeration activities of historically hard-to-enumerate groups contributed to census coverage in the 2010 and 2020 Censuses in order to inform its design for the 2030 Census.

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