2010 census may be forced back to paper

Problems with the census' employment of hand-held mobile computing devices (MCD) could force the 2010 census back into year-2000 style paper canvassing system, said a Government Accountability Office official.

'The Bureau could be faced with the remote but daunting possibility of having to revert to the costly, paper-based census used in 2000,' said Brenda S. Farrell, acting director of strategic issues for GAO, in testimony before the Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management, Government Information, and International Security, Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs on Tuesday.

Farrell stated that a 2004 census test run showed that local offices needed more staff to work with and more room to store MCDs. The devices also had reliability problems in past tests. Though the Bureau has contracted out a design overhaul on the computers, the new MCDs will not be ready in time for the 2008 Census Dress Rehearsal.

The report also criticized the Census Bureau's increased reliance on contract workers, noting that the Bureau will spend $1.9 billion'or nearly 17 percent'of overall decennial costs on seven major contract awards. This has ballooned the costs of some systems, including the census' data capture system which has gone from $49 million to $238 million.

This is not the first warning that GAO has released about the upcoming census. In a report released back on May 18, the GAO wrote that changes in contract milestones could affect the Census Bureau's ability to develop fully functional systems and the means to evaluate those systems by the dress rehearsal. This was due to delays in contract awards and changes in solicitation.

The new GAO report and testimony touched on this subject again, saying that there were no risk mitigation plans in place to address specific challenges, such as apportioning additional resources that may be needed to update map files for areas affected by hurricanes Rita and Katrina.

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