Census ditches handheld units for 2010 count

After years of trying to develop a system for collecting data for the 2010 census using handheld computers, the Census Bureau is going back to paper and pencils.

Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez told Congress this month that the Field Data Collection Automation project 'has experienced significant schedule, performance and cost issues.'

He added that 'a lack of effective communication with one of our key contractors has significantly contributed to the challenges.'

The handheld devices, which include a fingerprint reader for security, were designed specifically for census work. They were to be used by field workers during visits to people who had not mailed in their census forms. The bureau tested them in California and North Carolina in 2007 (GCN.com/1023).

Harris won a five-year, $600 million contract in 2006 to be the systems integrator and handle program management. Harris' team includes Accenture, to develop some of the touch-screen applications; High Tech Computer, to manufacture the devices; Oracle, to develop the database management applications; and Unisys, to provide help-desk support and put together the data processing center.

Gutierrez told Congress the 2010 census would ' because of the decision to drop FDCA and other changes ' cost an additional $2.2 billion to $3 billion, bringing the total cost to about $14 billion.

The department is not abandoning all of its efforts to modernize, however, Gutierrez said.

He said the department still plans to employ Global Positioning System-enabled Harris handheld computers for address canvassing, the operation that occurs the year before the decennial census to validate and update the location of every household in the country.

The department also plans to increase the accuracy of census maps by implementing a update of the digital geospatial database ' the Master Address File/Topologically Integrated Geographic Encoding and Referencing Accuracy Improvement Project.

About the Author

Patrick Marshall is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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