Despite handheld cutbacks, former officials see successful 2010 census

Former director Kincannon says change in tech plans won't blunt $14.5 billion effort

Former U.S. Census Bureau Director Louis Kincannon told reporters today that he expects a successful 2010 U.S. census despite the agency's decision last spring to cut back significantly on the use of handheld computers in the effort.

Shortly after the 2000 census was completed, the agency said that it hoped to go "virtually paperless" in 2010. But by 2007, the Census Bureau's plan hit a significant roadblock after unsuccessful tests of the paperless systems. Last spring, the Census Bureau told Congress that it had decided to scale back its plans to use the handheld computers.

The agency now plans to use Harris Corp. handheld devices with GPS only to verify street addresses of every household in the country.

Kincannon, who headed the bureau for six years under President George W. Bush, and Martha Riche, director of the bureau from 1995 to 1999 under President Bill Clinton, said today that they expect that even limited use of the technology could cut costs and boost the accuracy of the census.

"Checking the address list is so key," said Riche. "The census isn't over until we get a response from every address or find that the address is vacant."

In the press briefing organized by The Census Project, a coalition of groups and companies affected by census results, Kincannon said that overall preparations for the 2010 census deserve a rating of 9 on a scale of 1 to 10. "I'd say a nine instead of a 10 because of the late change to not use handheld computers in nonresponsive follow-up interviews," he said.

Kincannon said the decision to shift from handheld devices to paper-based forms for follow-up interviews will be costly, but it ensures accuracy, since "paper questionnaires have been used for decades."

The agency has estimated that the 2010 census will cost as much as $14.5 billion.

Bureau officials did not respond to requests for comment on the status of the 2010 census.

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