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Census Tops Richardson's Commerce To-Do List

By Ed O'Keefe

The nomination of Gov. Bill Richardson (D-N.M.) to head up the Commerce Department comes as the department's U.S. Census Bureau prepares to conduct its decennial national count of Americans. A recent report by the Government Accountability Office suggests there's still plenty to do before the bureau starts counting in 13 months.

Have no fear -- you will be counted. The bureau spends years preparing for the census, with dress rehearsals and focus groups that test new forms and methods. But how much will the next national count cost?

Estimates suggest the bureau could spend at least $2 billion visiting households that fail to return their census forms by the due date, April 1, 2010. Overall response rates have dropped from 78 percent in 1970 to 65 percent in 1990 and 2000, according to the GAO report, meaning the cost and time spent tracking down non-responders has climbed.

The bureau tested nine different methods to help increase participation rates and will use two of them: a two-column bilingual form and a replacement questionnaire. As it has in the past, the bureau will also employ an advertising and outreach campaign.

One big decision that Richardson might have to help make is whether to provide Americans with an online census form. The bureau decided in 2006 that the Internet was too risky and costly and would not increase overall response rates. It has since reconsidered and may still provide an online option, leading to even higher costs.

The final plans for the 2010 Census rank among the most-urgent issues that GAO believes Obama will face early in his term. There are also concerns about weather satellite systems for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, part of Commerce.

So get ready Gov. Richardson -- if you win Senate confirmation, you will be busy!

By Ed O'Keefe  | December 3, 2008; 9:45 AM ET
Categories:  Agencies and Departments  
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Comments

I reckon he'll be looking into the safety issues at NIST also.

Posted by: justhere | December 3, 2008 12:52 PM | Report abuse

The problem with the Census Bureau is that its leadership during the Bush administration (and possibly before) has not understood technology. The same problem occurs with long-term career employees that want to do things the same way they were done 30 years ago. That is why the initiative to use mobile devices for enumerators in 2010 failed and why they reached that absurd conclusion with web surveys. Richardson needs to bring someone who truly understands technology into a top position at the Census Bureau.

Posted by: JPHT | December 3, 2008 1:06 PM | Report abuse

Actually the Census Bureau generates much of its own technology, in addition to maintaining the most frequently visited web site in the world. Numerous experimental survey designs have concluded that adding a web component will do nothing to increase response rates. Perhaps impressing upon taxpayers that nonresponse will just lead to a higher bill for them would do something. The problem with the handheld devices had nothing to do with Census employees and everything to do with a contractor getting in way over its head and being unable to deliver an adequate product. Having been an employee at Census, I spent a huge amount of time programming new devices. I voted for Obama but the current Director of the Census is considered one of the top professionals in his field. He needs to remain in that position so that Census can have some level of consistency through the decennial. Here's hoping that Obama listens to some actual demographers rather than reporters or random commenters who have no idea.

Posted by: jinnyc | December 3, 2008 1:31 PM | Report abuse

I hear they are considering giving Richardson the Dept of Energy as well, putting their functions under Commerce. What's one fewer Cabinet official anyway? Has their even been a rumor of anyone else to run Energy?

Posted by: BMoreDemocrat | December 3, 2008 2:38 PM | Report abuse

Responding to jinnic

Your credibility goes out the window with your assertion that the Census Bureau is "maintaining the most frequently visited web site in the world". The Census Bureau is nowhere to be found on the Alexa 500 or Nielsen Online's rankings.

The problem with the leadership had to do to the leadership up to 2006 (HH).

The surveys conducted to test the Internet forms were biased against them because it was hard for people to notice they were able to go to the web in the mailings they received, and complicated to identify the information required to enter on the website.

I suggest you read the reports by an MITRE on why the mobile technologies failed. The main problem is that there was a lack of understanding of how technology should be designed and evaluated at the Census Bureau which resulted in a poor set of requirments. Did anyone bother to call UPS or FedEx to see how they did it? The contracting was not done appropriately either, resulting in a the subsequent mess.

Posted by: JPHT | December 3, 2008 2:58 PM | Report abuse

BMoreDemocrat: I have not heard anything about Richardson getting essentially a double cabinet posting by putting Energy within Commerce. Doing so would allow more control over cap and trade, carbon emission controls, etc. Both Clinton and W. had issues between Commerce and Energy and their suggested environmental regulations (essentially trade before energy, or energy before trade arguments). An argument can be made that since Energy (and any major changes to national energy policy) would affect commerce and trade significantly, that this provides a consistent, enforceable and more politically stable avenue for Obama's energy plan. Not to mention, Richardson has bona fides when it comes to energy policy that are probably more substantial than his commerce bona fides (Sec. Energy, New Mexico as a progressivly green state) Just a thought.

Posted by: newsmctado | December 3, 2008 3:03 PM | Report abuse

JinnyC may have exaggerated the Census website's popularity -- it is true that census.gov was once one of the most popular websites, but certainly it lost that crown some time ago. Yahoo, Google and YouTube are the current top three according to Alexa.

I am also a former Census worker and my wife is employed there still. I observed many dedicated people with top-notch skills and deep/wide participation with the latest information processing and communications technology. Sadly, I also observed a number of people, many in positions of authority, who failed to grasp and incorporate technological change into their planning and operations. From conversations with friends there, I believe JPHT is closer to the mark about the failure of the handheld units and Census traditionally has been reluctant to look outside for answers and solutions. FedEx and UPS have long solved many of the problems of deploying fleets of hand-portable information gathering devices and Census could learn much from them if they tried.

Posted by: DigiMark | December 3, 2008 4:52 PM | Report abuse

Expect a major undercount of the number of illegals in our country.

U. S. OVERPOPULATION GROWTH

YEAR -------- U.S.---- -----DECADE GAIN --GREEN CARDS ---
1920 ----106,021,537
------------------------- ------17,181,087 ----
1930 ----123,202,624
------------------------- -------8,961,945 ----
1940 ----132,164,569
------------------------- ------19,161,229 ----
1950 ----151,325,798
------------------------- ------27,997,377 ----
1960 ----179,323,175
------------------------- ------23,888,751 ----
1970 ----203,211,926
------------------------- ------23,333,879 ----4,323,688
1980 ----226,545,805
------------------------- ------22,164,068 ----6,750,168
1990 ----248,709,873
------------------------- ------32,712,036 ----9,447,963
2000 ----281,421,906
------------------------- --est. 33,568,094---10,214,981
2010 ----315,000,000

THE MAJORITY OF OUR POPULATION INCREASE, OVER THE LAST 22 YEARS, IS DUE TO ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION.

STOP THE INVASION AND YOU WILL STOP THE OVERPOPULATION OF OUR UNITED STATES!!!

YOU WILL STOP THE OVERCROWDING IN OUR SCHOOLS!!!

YOU WILL STOP THE GRIDLOCK ON OUR HIGHWAYS!!!

STOP THE INVASION BY ILLEGALS!!!

Posted by: buzzm1 | December 3, 2008 11:04 PM | Report abuse

The government has been lying to you......again.

The BIG LIE......

They keep saying there are only 12 million illegal immigrants in our United States.

FACT: In the last 22 years, over 26 million illegals, have been apprehended, after crossing the border, into our United States. THE PROBLEM IS: Less than 1, out of 4, of the invading illegals, are estimated to have been apprehended.

According to the U.S. Immigration Service another 6 million illegals in our country are visa overstays.

There are, AT LEAST, 40 million illegal immigrants in our United States..........

there are 8.7 million illegals working at on-the-books jobs that they used forged, and/or stolen, identities, to illegally obtain.

there are at least that many more illegals working under-the-table, for unscrupulous employers, as part of the tax fraud laden underground economy.

there are over 5 million illegal immigrant students overcrowding our schools, all at American taxpayer expense.

Illegal immigrants cost American taxpayers over 300 billion dollars a year.

The Bush administration in its final weeks will revive a stalled crackdown on U.S. companies that hire illegal immigrants, issuing a new regulation and asking a federal judge to lift a ban on the measure, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff announced yesterday.

If the court agrees, the government could begin mailing notices to 140,000 employers regarding suspect Social Security numbers used by an estimated 8.7 million workers, pressuring businesses to either resolve discrepancies or fire workers within 90 days.

E-VERIFY MUST BE MANDATED, FOR ALL EMPLOYEES, AND FOR ALL EMPLOYERS!!!

UNEMPLOYED AMERICAN WORKERS NEED THOSE JOBS!!!

Posted by: buzzm1 | December 3, 2008 11:05 PM | Report abuse

================
================

ANOTHER POSTER SAID:
The problem with the Census Bureau is that its leadership during the Bush administration (and possibly before) has not understood technology.

HEY! I PROGRAMMED CENSUS BUREAU COMPUTERS FOR THREE YEARS. I CAN ASSURE YOU THAT, AT LEAST, THE COMPUTER PEOPLE KNOW WHAT THEY'RE DOING.

YOU WANNA FIND FAULT, LOOK NO FARTHER THAN UPPER MANAGEMENT.

-- faye kane, homeless brain
See more of my smartmouth opinions at http://blog.myspace.com/fayekane

Posted by: FayeKane_HomelessSmartypants | December 3, 2008 11:51 PM | Report abuse

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