2000 Census: Contingency Planning Needed to Address Risks That Pose a Threat to a Successful Census

GGD-00-6 Published: Dec 14, 1999. Publicly Released: Dec 14, 1999.
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Highlights

Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the Year 2000 census, focusing on: (1) the need to boost the declining level of public participation in the census; and (2) the Census Bureau's need to collect timely and accurate data from nonrespondents.

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Recommendations

Matter for Congressional Consideration

Matter Status Comments
To help expand the census applicant pool, Congress may wish to consider legislative actions to modify legal provisions that potentially discourage or prohibit specific groups of people from seeking census employment. Options could include expediting its consideration of H.R. 683, S. 752, S. 1588, which among other things, would remove financial disincentives that could discourage recipients of Social Security, veterans healthcare, food stamps, Medicaid, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families benefits, as well as federal and military retirees from seeking census employment.
Closed – Implemented
In its December 1999 report on the 2000 Census, to expand the census applicant pool, GAO recommended that the 106th Congress expedite legislation that would remove financial disincentives that could discourage recipients of Social Security, veterans healthcare, food stamp, Medicaid and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families benefits, as well as federal and military retires, from seeking census employment. In February 2000, H.R. 3581, which included these provisions, was referred to the House Committee on Government Reform for formal congressional consideration.
To help expand the census applicant pool, Congress may wish to consider legislative actions to modify legal provisions that potentially discourage or prohibit specific groups of people from seeking census employment. Options could include allowing active duty military personnel to hold temporary census employment.
Closed – Implemented
In its December 1999 report on the 2000 Census, to expand the census applicant pool, GAO recommended that the 106th Congress consider legislative actions to modify legal provisions that potentially discourage or prohibit specific groups of people from seeking census employment, including allowing active duty military personnel to hold temporary census employment. At the request of the House Census Subcommittee, GAO drafted specific legislative language encompassing this recommendation. In February 2000, H.R. 3581, which included this provision, was referred to the House Committee on Government Reform for formal congressional consideration.
To help expand the census applicant pool, Congress may wish to consider legislative actions to modify legal provisions that potentially discourage or prohibit specific groups of people from seeking census employment. Options could include exempting former federal employees who received voluntary separation incentives (buyouts) from requirements to repay their buyout amount if they work on the census.
Closed – Implemented
In its December 1999 report on the 2000 Census, to expand the census applicant pool, GAO recommended that the 106th Congress consider legislative actions to exempt former federal employees who received voluntary separation incentives (buyouts) from requirements to repay their buyout amount if they work on the census. At the request of the House Census Subcommittee, GAO drafted specific legislative language encompassing this recommendation. In February 2000, H.R. 3581, which included this provision, was referred to the House Committee on Government Reform for formal congressional consideration.
To help expand the census applicant pool, Congress may wish to consider legislative actions to modify legal provisions that potentially discourage or prohibit specific groups of people from seeking census employment. Options could include providing a statutory exemption form the appropriations restriction currently contained in section 605 of Public Law 106-58, for purposes of temporary census employment.
Closed – Not Implemented
In its December 1999 report on the 2000 Census, to expand the census applicant pool, GAO recommended that the 106th Congress consider legislative actions to modify legal provisions that potentially discourage or prohibit specific groups of people from seeking census employment by including a statutory exemption from the appropriations restriction currently contained in section 605 of Public Law 106-58. Congress did not act on this recommendation for the 2000 Census.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
U.S. Census Bureau To help ensure an accurate and cost-effective census, the Director, Bureau of the Census should develop a contingency plan of actions the Bureau can take to address the operational challenges that would result from a questionnaire mail response rate that is lower-than-anticipated. At a minimum, the Bureau's plan should address the budgetary, scheduling, staffing, and other logistical implications of collecting data from a larger number of nonresponding households. The contingency plan should also include options and procedures to balance the pressure to meet census schedules with the need to limit the use of proxy data. The Bureau should share its plan with Congress and others to demonstrate its preparedness for collecting accurate data in the event of lower-than-expected levels of public cooperation with the census.
Closed – Not Implemented
In February 2000, in response to GAO's recommendation that the Census Bureau develop a contingency plan of actions that it could take to address operational challenges that would result from a lower than expected questionnaire mail response rate in the 2000 Census, the Secretary of Commerce stated the Census Bureau must give priority to the execution of each component of the 2000 Census plan and not to the development of operational innovations or design changes.

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