Census Tops Richardson's Commerce To-Do List
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!
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