2010 Census:

Bureau Needs to Specify How It Will Assess Coverage Follow-up Techniques and When It Will Produce Coverage Measurement Results

GAO-08-414: Published: Apr 15, 2008. Publicly Released: May 15, 2008.

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An accurate decennial census relies on finding and counting people--only once--in the right place and collecting complete and correct information. GAO reviewed the Department of Commerce's U.S. Census Bureau's (Bureau) plans to (1) improve the census's accuracy--or coverage--with its coverage follow-up operation, (2) assess the accuracy of the census through its census coverage measurement program, and (3) evaluate these efforts after 2010. GAO reviewed documentation and interviewed Bureau officials about the Bureau's coverage follow-up and measurement plans. GAO compared plans for measuring coverage in 2000 and 2010 and interviewed 15 experts about changes to the plans.

The Bureau plans to expand its coverage follow-up operation to improve the accuracy of enumeration data collected in 2010. As in Census 2000, coverage follow-up is intended to resolve count discrepancies (when the number of household members reported on a completed questionnaire fails to match the number of persons for whom information is collected) and complete the enumeration of large households (more than six persons living in a housing unit). For 2010, the Bureau researched new techniques to increase the number of ways a person or household could be selected for coverage follow-up. These include (1) using coverage probes on the census form to identify cases with potential under- or overcount problems, (2) using administrative records to identify households that include persons who may not have been counted, and (3) using computer matching to determine potential duplicate persons. However, it is not clear on what basis the Bureau will select or prioritize cases from this potentially expanded universe. The Bureau plans to further assess the techniques during the 2008 Dress Rehearsal, leaving little time to consider and implement improvements for the 2010 coverage follow-up operation. Because of the potential for the coverage follow-up workload to increase, it will be important for the Bureau to be clear on how it will decide which techniques to use and how it will select coverage follow-up cases to ensure that the operation may best improve coverage. Although the Bureau's overall design for measurement is similar in many respects to the design for 2000, its measurement plan differs in important ways. The Bureau is planning to use a sample design similar to that used in 2000 and still intends to produce net coverage error estimates. However, the Bureau does not plan to use measurement results to adjust the 2010 count of the nation's population and is planning to make four significant changes: (1) conduct the measurement interview 4 months later than it did in 2000, (2) use a different method--logistic regression--to estimate net error, (3) use estimates of the components of coverage error in an effort to improve future decennials, and (4) expand computer matching and clerical matching to match persons in its postenumeration survey to the entire census. Still, the Bureau has not specified when it will produce estimates of net coverage error and the components of coverage error for the 2010 Census. The Bureau also has not clearly described how it will associate the components of coverage error to census operations in order to improve future decennials. Because of the Bureau's changes to its coverage measurement program, it is important for the Bureau to solidify its plans and share them with stakeholders to ensure that there is an agreement on what the program will produce and when the Bureau will produce its results. The Bureau is in the early stages of planning how it will evaluate coverage follow-up and measurement after the 2010 Census. As part of this effort, the Bureau is considering recommendations of the National Academy of Sciences for the Bureau's program of evaluations and experiments for Census 2010. The Bureau has not yet developed a timeline for completing its evaluation plans.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • 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: The Secretary of Commerce should direct the Bureau to provide the Congress and other census stakeholders with more specific plans on conducting coverage follow-up, implementing coverage measurement, and evaluating the results of those programs for the 2010 Census. Specifically, the Bureau should provide the criteria it will use to assess the techniques for identifying cases for the coverage follow-up operation in the 2008 Dress Rehearsal and the timeline for completing this assessment to permit planning for 2010--the timeline should specify dates for preliminary assessments, final assessments, and when operational changes might be made to the 2010 Census.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The plans for coverage follow-up in 2010 reflect lessons learned from the 2008 Dress Rehearsal. The Bureau has issued detailed criteria for case selection for Coverage Follow-up in Census Memo 28 and Census Memo 31. The Coverage Follow-up operation in 2010 is underway as planned.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Commerce should direct the Bureau to provide the Congress and other census stakeholders with more specific plans on conducting coverage follow-up, implementing coverage measurement, and evaluating the results of those programs for the 2010 Census. Specifically, the Bureau should provide its plans for conducting coverage measurement for the 2010 Census, which should include a description of when it will provide estimates of net coverage error and components of coverage error and how it plans to relate components of coverage error to census operations in order to improve future decennials.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Since this report, the Bureau has finalized its plans for the CCM program including CCM's goals, the timing of operations, and the timing and types of results to be produced. While study plans for all evaluations are not expected until the fall of 2010, the evaluations to be conducted have been decided and schedules published. Adherence to schedule will be important to ensure that the Bureau carries out CCM in order to meet its goal of improving the 2020 Census.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Commerce should direct the Bureau to provide the Congress and other census stakeholders with more specific plans on conducting coverage follow-up, implementing coverage measurement, and evaluating the results of those programs for the 2010 Census. Specifically, the Bureau should provide key decision points and plans for evaluating aspects of the 2010 Census coverage follow-up operation and census coverage measurement program.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In May 2010 and August 2010, the Bureau issued memoranda describing several studies of coverage follow-up it was carrying out as part of its formal evaluation program. This commitment to understanding how the Bureau's design of the operation worked to achieve Bureau goals will help the Bureau as it designs more effective operations for the 2020 Census. Additionally, between May 2010 and June 2011, the Bureau issued ten planning memoranda describing study plans it had approved for various evaluations of Census Coverage Measurement (CCM). Finalizing and announcing the decisions on how CCM will be evaluated improved the transparency of the 2010 Census as well as Bureau efforts to improve future censuses.

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