Commerce OIG: Now is a crucial time for 2020 census

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It’s only 2012, but the Commerce Department office of inspector general is already sounding alarms about management of the next decennial census, to be held in 2020.

The bureau itself, the OIG says in a report (.pdf) dated April 5, recognizes that it must fundamentally change the design of the decennial census in order to improve the quality and contain costs. It estimates that the next census will cost between $12.8 billion and $18 billion, in nominal, non-inflation adjusted money.

The matter that’s got the OIG already worried is that the bureau has dropped behind in preparing lessons learned documents from execution of the last census. Such studies, the OIG says, hold the potential to improve major aspects of the census, such as address lists, “counting the population, response options and processing, data products, and infrastructure-related issues--as well as inform the redesign of the 2020 Census.”

Lower-than-expected funding in the current fiscal year for the evaluations--Census says it will spend $11 million--caused the bureau to eliminate 20 such studies, leaving the total to be 50.

But of the 30 reports (13 of them “critical”) that the bureau was supposed to have completed by Sept. 30, 2011, only three have been issued, the OIG says.

Auditors say staff attrition, reassignments and internal competition for resources may have impacted the studies’ schedule. Census officials say they’ve revised their strategy for completing the reports, although auditors say it’s too early to tell whether it’s working.

The early years of census planning, auditors say, have been a crucial but previously overlooked period, adding that they plan on tracking preparation for 2020 closely throughout this decade.

For more:
- download the report, OIG-12-023-1 (.pdf)

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