2000 Census:

Coverage Measurement Programs' Results, Costs, and Lessons Learned

GAO-03-287: Published: Jan 29, 2003. Publicly Released: Jan 29, 2003.

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To help measure the quality of the 2000 Census and to possibly adjust for any errors, the U.S. Census Bureau (Bureau) conducted the Accuracy and Coverage Evaluation (A.C.E.) program. However, after obligating around $207 million for A.C.E. and its predecessor program, Integrated Coverage Measurement (I.C.M.), from fiscal years 1996 through 2001, the Bureau did not use either program to adjust the census numbers. Concerned about the amount of money the Bureau spent on I.C.M. and A.C.E. programs and what was produced in return, the subcommittee asked us to review the objectives and results of the programs, the costs of consultants, and how best to track future coverage measurement activities.

The two programs the Bureau employed to measure the quality of the 2000 Census population data did not meet their objectives. The A.C.E. program achieved results other than those laid out in the Bureau's formal objectives that highlight important lessons learned. They include (1) developing a coverage measurement methodology that is both operationally and technically feasible, (2) determining the level of geography at which coverage measurement is intended, (3) keeping stakeholders, particularly Congress, informed of the Bureau's plans, and (4) adequately testing coverage measurement methodologies. It will be important for the Bureau to consider these as its current plans for the 2010 Census include coverage evaluation to measure the accuracy of the census but not necessarily to adjust the results. Of the roughly $207 million the Bureau obligated for I.C.M./A.C.E. programs from fiscal years 1996 through 2001, we identified about $22.3 million that was obligated for contracts involving over 170 vendors. We could not identify any obligations prior to 1996 in part because the Bureau included them with its general research and development efforts and did not assign the I.C.M./A.C.E. operations unique project codes in its financial management system. To track these costs in the future, it will be important for the Bureau to (1) have a financial management system that has specific project codes to capture coverage measurement costs, (2) establish the project codes as early in the planning process as possible, and (3) monitor the usage of the codes to ensure that they are properly charged.

Status Legend:

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  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To help ensure that any future coverage measurement efforts achieve their intended objectives and costs can be properly tracked, the Secretary of Commerce should direct the Bureau of the Census to, in conjunction with Congress and other stakeholders, come to a decision soon on whether and how coverage measurement will be used in the 2010 Census.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Bureau concurred with the recommendation and decided that it would not plan on developing a procedure for adjusting the 2010 census data for reapportionment or redistricting purposes, but that it did plan to fully evaluate the accuracy of the coverage of the 2010 census to help improve enumeration methodologies for the future.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that any future coverage measurement efforts achieve their intended objectives and costs can be properly tracked, the Secretary of Commerce should direct the Bureau of the Census to consider incorporating lessons learned from its coverage measurement experience during the 2000 Census, such as (1) demonstrating both the operational and technical feasibility of its coverage measurement methods, (2) determining the level of geography at which coverage can be reliably measured, (3) keeping Congress and other stakeholders informed of its plans, and (4) adequately testing coverage measurement prior to full implementation.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Bureau concurred with the recommendation and indicated it has included these items as part of its research, development, and testing program for 2010.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that any future coverage measurement efforts achieve their intended objectives and costs can be properly tracked, the Secretary of Commerce should direct the Bureau of the Census to ensure that the Bureau's financial management systems can capture and report program activities early in the decennial process and ensure that project costs are monitored for accuracy and completeness.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to the recommendation to improve its accounting for such projects and beginning with FY 2004, the Bureau has established and will use a separate project code for coverage measurement efforts related to the 2010 census.

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