Census counts on getting better data from new system for the 2010 tally

The Census Bureau is weaving the electronic strands of a net to capture the information that population counters will deliver in 2010.

Census officials late last month hired Lockheed Martin Corp. to de-velop and operate the information processing system that will bring together three systems as the Decennial Response Integration System. Under the $500 million contract, Lockheed will develop an option for filing census questionnaire responses over the Internet and provide systems, facilities and staffing to capture and standardize census data from paper census forms, telephone and the Internet.

'It's like a big catch net capturing all the data coming in, no matter where it comes from. It will integrate everybody who tries to answer the census form,' said Preston J. Waite, associate director for the 2010 census. The contract is a part of an overall effort to improve Census' business processes, which could save the bureau $1.3 billion or more compared with the cost of the 2000 census.

Officials say the population data will also be more comprehensive and be captured more quickly and consistently.

The Census Bureau, a division of the Commerce Department, will use an integrated response system to provide assistance as well as to capture data for the 2010 census.

DRIS will capture and integrate all data coming into the Census Bureau from mailed forms, telephone questionnaires and Internet responses, as well as information uploaded from population counters' handheld computers. DRIS will integrate them into a form to be presented as data files.

For the 2010 census, the contract calls for a lot more integration of different technology approaches. Census is also pulling together all of the services, equipment, systems and software under one contract, said Arnold Jackson, assistant director of IT systems for the 2010 census.

'We're hoping that with one integrator, there will be fewer handoffs, lower risk, and [that] solutions can be envisioned by the prime contractor and pushed all the way through the system.
We have fewer problems with unintended differences in our data that way. We will try to make it as likely as possible that the quality of data is as high as can be,' he said.

In 2010, Census will focus on eliminating duplication of information, using simpler forms to encourage increased response and automating some data. Census will equip its house-to-house counters with handheld computers, which they will dock to PCs at the end of the day and upload the data to the system. Census expects to award the contract for the field data collection, including the handhelds, next year.

Census has also upgraded its geographic systems, the Master Address File/Topologically Integrated Geographic Encoding and Referencing (MAF/TIGER) to automate the identification of apartments and houses by incorporating GPS coordinates.

'We think that will help our field people get the address and the house in the right place. That's a big benefit for coverage,' Jackson said.

The 2010 census is expected to cost $11.3 billion overall, including the updated and automated systems, data integration and a shorter census questionnaire form. Conducting the census as in 2000, without the system re-engineering, Waite said, would cost $12.6 billion.

Lockheed Martin developed the information processing system used in 2000, but it was one of the three separate contracts for preparing data and operating the systems, said Julie Dunlap, Lockheed Martin's 2010 DRIS program director, who also was involved with the program in 2000.
Census plans a dress rehearsal in April 2008, so the technology window is really only 2 1/2 years, she said

Census awarded the DRIS contract a year earlier in the schedule than it did for the one in 2000.
'Taking that extra year to focus on what's going to be different and trying to get re- quirements defined early on and drive for a true dress rehearsal is a significant change from 2000,' Dunlap said.

Census bought a year in the procurement cycle to talk about requirements before locking in the final solution.

'That shows a real mature contracting approach. A lot of the failures of integrators today [happen because] you try to do so many things in parallel, defining requirements as you're developing the technology,' she said.

Among technologies for DRIS, Lockheed will use IBM Corp.'s Web Sphere products to do Web page development.

Between 2008 and 2010, Lockheed is to bring the data centers online and incorporate final forms changes or refinements in actual development.

Lockheed Martin will team with IBM, Computer Sciences Corp., Pearson Government Solutions of Arlington, Va., and several other companies to perform the six-year cost-plus, award-fee contract.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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