2000 Census:

Review of Partnership Program Highlights Best Practices for Future Operations

GAO-01-579: Published: Aug 20, 2001. Publicly Released: Aug 20, 2001.

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To take a more complete and accurate count of the nation's population in the 2000 Census, the Bureau of the Census partnered with other federal agencies, as well as with state, local, and tribal governments; religious, community, and social service organizations; and private businesses. According to the Bureau, about 140,000 organizations participated in the partnership program by assisting in such critical activities as reviewing and updating the Bureau's address list, encouraging people--especially hard-to-count populations--to participate in the census, and recruiting temporary census employees. GAO found that the Bureau spent about $142.9 million on its partnership program, or about two percent of the estimated $6.5 billion the Bureau allocated for the census and an average of about $1.19 for each of the 120 million households that the Bureau estimates are in the nation. The Bureau staffed the partnership program with 594 full-time positions, of which 560 were allocated to the field, while the remaining slots were located in the Bureau's headquarters. Decisions on which organizations to partner with and what events to attend were governed by unwritten guidelines and criteria and were driven by the Bureau's desire to collaborate with virtually any organization that would support the census. The Bureau made the census logo available on its Internet site and encouraged partners to use the logo to help promote the census. However, the Bureau did not have any written guidance on how partners could characterize their association with the Bureau or what constituted appropriate use of the census logo. The Bureau has since prepared written guidelines for making decisions on partnership engagements. However, the guidelines fall short in that they still do not address how partners may (1) characterize their associations with the Bureau and (2) use the Bureau's logo. Although the Bureau developed a monitoring system for tracking, planning, and analyzing partnership efforts throughout the nation, it was not fully tested before it went operational because of time constraints. As a result, several shortcomings went undetected until the system was implemented.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: All data from the Contact Profile Usage Management System were successfully merged into Prisms in April and May 2001. The contractor will continue making modifications to the application in the winter of 2001, furthermore defining features and making the system progressively more user-friendly and easier to use.

    Recommendation: To foster a more accountable and performance-oriented partnership program, the Secretary of Commerce should ensure that the Census Bureau ensure that Prisms, the Bureau's new partnership tracking system, is fully tested under the operational loads expected for future operations and the 2010 Census. This should help ensure that Prisms increases the accuracy, ease of use, and utility of the Bureau's partnership program database and provides the Bureau with credible performance information necessary for monitoring, planning, and evaluating the partnership program.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Census Bureau has strengthened its guidelines, and in February, 2004, trademarked its logo to help protect it from unauthorized and inappropriate use.

    Recommendation: To foster a more accountable and performance-oriented partnership program, the Secretary of Commerce should ensure that the Census Bureau develop regulations specifying how organizations may characterize their association with the Bureau and how they may use the Bureau's logo. The guidance should provide for needed flexibility while informing partners that they should not characterize their association with the Bureau or use the census logo in a manner that is inconsistent with the Bureau's mission, nor should they imply that the Bureau is sponsoring or endorsing a particular activity or organization.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Census Bureau has reviewed current staffing levels and believes they are sufficient for current functions. Plans developed for future operations will include strategies for obtaining sufficient staff in a timely fashion.

    Recommendation: To foster a more accountable and performance-oriented partnership program, the Secretary of Commerce should ensure that the Census Bureau review partnership specialist staffing levels to make sure that the levels are sufficient to ensure the adequate provision of Bureau support to partners.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Bureau indicated that as its plans for the 2010 Census proceed, it will continue to explore ways to improve the coordination and communication between the partnership specialists.

    Recommendation: To foster a more accountable and performance-oriented partnership program, the Secretary of Commerce should ensure that the Census Bureau explore ways to increase the coordination and communication between the partnership specialists and the local census office managers.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Census Bureau has taken steps to document and audit in-kind funding expenditures consistent with our recommendations.

    Recommendation: To foster a more accountable and performance-oriented partnership program, the Secretary of Commerce should ensure that the Census Bureau document in-kind funding expenditures and maintain proper accounting in accordance with federal government standards for internal control.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Throughout the 2000 Census, the Census Bureau included numerous opportunities for staff to share best practices with each other and with their partners. For example, on March 15, 1999, the Bureau held a special meeting in Washington, DC, for partners to from each region to share innovative and creative methods and strategies to motivate their communities. The Bureau says it will continue with this policy of sharing best practices as it plans for the 2010 Census.

    Recommendation: To foster a more accountable and performance-oriented partnership program, the Secretary of Commerce should ensure that the Census Bureau, in completing the evaluation of the partnership program as planned, ensure that the Bureau managers receive the information they need to refine and develop the program and allocate resources appropriately. As part of this effort, the Bureau should identify best practices and ensure that they are incorporated into future partnership efforts.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

  7. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Census Bureau maintains that it recognizes the value of sharing information among its different regions. For this reason, the Bureau said that it will be reviewing evaluations of its partnership program to make improvements for 2010.

    Recommendation: To foster a more accountable and performance-oriented partnership program, the Secretary of Commerce should ensure that the Census Bureau ensure that partnership specialists, as part of their training, are made aware of the best practices of productive partnerships, and that they incorporate those practices when engaging partners in the future.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

 

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