2000 Census:

Lessons Learned for Planning a More Cost-Effective 2010 Census

GAO-03-40: Published: Oct 31, 2002. Publicly Released: Nov 7, 2002.

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GAO reviewed the funding of 2000 Census planning and development efforts and the impact it had on census operations. Total funding for the 2000 Census, referred to as the life cycle cost, covers a 13-year period from fiscal year 1991 through fiscal year 2003 and is expected to total $6.5 billion adjusted to 2000 year dollars. This amount was almost double the reported life cycle cost of the 1990 Census of $3.3 billion adjusted to 2000 year dollars. Considering these escalating costs, the experience of the U.S. Census Bureau in preparing for the 2000 Census offers valuable insights for the planning and development efforts now occurring for the 2010 Census. Thorough and comprehensive planning and development efforts are crucial to the ultimate efficiency and success of any large, long-term project, particularly one with the scope, magnitude, and the deadlines of the U.S. decennial census. For fiscal years 1991 through 1997, $269 million was requested in the President's Budgets for 2000 Census planning and development and the program received funding of $224 million by Congress, or 83 percent of the amount requested. According to U.S. Census Bureau records, the bulk of the $86 million in funding received through the end of fiscal year 1995 was obligated for program development and evaluation methodologies, testing and dress rehearsals, and planning for the acquisition of automated data processing and telecommunications support. The U.S. Census Bureau was responsible for carrying out its mission within the budget provided and bureau management determined the specific areas in which available resources were invested. GAO could not determine what effect, if any, that higher funding levels might have had on bureau operations as this is dependent upon actual implementation and the results of management decisions that may or may not have occurred. According to bureau officials, early planning and development efforts for the 2000 Census were adversely affected by lower funding than requested for fiscal years 1993 through 1997. They identified 10 areas where additional funding could have been beneficial. These included difficulties in retaining knowledgeable staff, scaled back plans for testing and evaluating 1990 Census data, delays in implementing a planning database, and limited resources to update address databases. The bureau's experience in preparing for the 2000 Census underscores the importance of solid, upfront planning and adequate funding levels to carry out those plans.

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: As the U.S. Census Bureau plans for the 2010 Census, the Secretary of Commerce should direct that the bureau provide comprehensive information backed by supporting documentation in its future funding requests for planning and development activities, that would include, but is not limited to, such items as key implementation issues and decision milestones.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Census Bureau is expanding the documents justifying its budgetary requests consistent with Commerce Department and OMB guidelines. An important example of this is the Capital Asset Plan and Business Case that outlines the bureau's planned information technology development activities throughout the decennial census cycle. This plan will be regularly updated in each budget cycle and include detailed discussions of the systems underlying the bureau's plan to reengineer the 2010 Census to include key performance issues and decision milestones.

    Recommendation: As the U.S. Census Bureau plans for the 2010 Census, the Secretary of Commerce should direct that the bureau provide comprehensive information backed by supporting documentation in its future funding requests for planning and development activities, that would include, but is not limited to, such items as detailed information on project feasibility, priorities, and potential risks.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Census Bureau is expanding the documents justifying its budgetary requests consistent with Commerce Department and OMB guidelines. An important example of this is the Capital Asset Plan and Business Case that outlines the bureau's planned information technology development activities throughout the decennial census cycle. This plan will be regularly updated in each budget cycle and include detailed discussions of the systems underlying the bureau's plan to reengineer the 2010 Census to include detailed information on project feasibility, priorities, and potential risks.

    Recommendation: As the U.S. Census Bureau plans for the 2010 Census, the Secretary of Commerce should direct that the bureau provide comprehensive information backed by supporting documentation in its future funding requests for planning and development activities, that would include, but is not limited to, such items as specific performance goals for the 2010 Census and how bureau efforts, procedures, and projects would contribute to those goals.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Census Bureau is expanding the documents justifying its budgetary requests consistent with Commerce Department and OMB guidelines. An important example of this is the Capital Asset Plan and Business Case that outlines the bureau's planned information technology development activities throughout the decennial census cycle. This plan will be regularly updated in each budget cycle and include detailed discussions of the systems underlying the bureau's plan to reengineer the 2010 Census to include specific performance goals and how bureau efforts, procedures, and projects would contribute to those goals.

    Recommendation: As the U.S. Census Bureau plans for the 2010 Census, the Secretary of Commerce should direct that the bureau provide comprehensive information backed by supporting documentation in its future funding requests for planning and development activities, that would include, but is not limited to, such items as performance measures.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Census Bureau is expanding the documents justifying its budgetary requests consistent with Commerce Department and OMB guidelines. An important example of this is the Capital Asset Plan and Business Case that outlines the bureau's planned information technology development activities throughout the decennial census cycle. This plan will be regularly updated in each budget cycle and include detailed discussions of the systems underlying the bureau's plan to reengineer the 2010 Census to include performance measures.

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