Decennial Census:

Census Bureau and Postal Service Should Pursue Opportunities to Further Enhance Collaboration

GAO-11-874: Published: Sep 30, 2011. Publicly Released: Sep 30, 2011.

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The Census Bureau (Bureau) and U.S. Postal Service (USPS) collaborated on aspects of the 2010 Census and prior decennials, and those efforts generally went well in such areas as address list development. But both agencies face challenges: the Bureau needs to control the escalating cost of the decennial census and maintain its accuracy, while USPS must improve its financial condition. As requested, GAO examined opportunities to enhance collaboration in such areas as technology, personnel, and facilities that could improve the cost-effectiveness of the 2020 Census and generate revenue for USPS. GAO analyzed Bureau and USPS data and documents, compared the agencies' existing collaborative efforts with prior GAO work, and interviewed agency officials.

The Bureau and USPS are expanding collaborative efforts for the 2020 Census. The collaborative efforts include a new Bureau initiative to continuously update its master address list using USPS and local address information. This could allow the Bureau to limit the size of field operations needed to develop an accurate and complete address list for the 2020 Census. The Bureau and USPS also plan to update their 1995 memorandum of understanding to, among other matters, help ensure that both agencies benefit from their collaborative efforts. Bureau officials explained that under the 1995 memorandum, the agencies' collaboration typically benefited the Bureau more than USPS. Now both agencies would like to improve each other's address and geographic information. One new effort anticipated under the revised memorandum of understanding would provide USPS with the Bureau's geographic data products and support, which USPS hopes to use to improve its mail routing and other business decisions. The revised memorandum of understanding is expected to be approved later this year. Additional opportunities exist for the Bureau to take advantage of the knowledge and experience of USPS mail carriers, including retirees. Bureau and USPS officials agree that USPS mail carriers are familiar with their communities, so hiring mail carriers as temporary census workers could allow the Bureau to, among other things, develop a more accurate address list for the 2020 Census. However, using mail carriers to conduct census field operations at USPS pay rates would not be cost-effective. In 2010, USPS mail carriers cost on average about $41 (city) or $34 (rural) per hour compared to about $15 per hour for census enumerators. In the 2010 Census, about 19-million forms could not be delivered--also known as undeliverable as addressed mailings. The Bureau, in its comments to a copy of this draft report, provided a summary of reasons for why forms were not delivered. These reasons include the house was vacant or there was no mail box. Thus, now that the Bureau has compiled this information, it will be important for the Bureau to work with USPS to assess strategies to reduce the number of undeliverable as addressed mailings, as undelivered mail results in additional operational and waste-disposal costs for USPS and additional postage fees for the Bureau. The Bureau works with the General Services Administration to lease space for its local offices during the census. For the 2010 Census, the Bureau leased two USPS locations for a total cost of $330,000. While USPS officials stated that ongoing efforts to downsize the USPS could increase the availability of facility space that could be used by the Bureau in the next census, USPS hopes to sell these facilities, and it is uncertain how many will be available in 2020 (and what condition those facilities would be in if they were available). GAO recommends the Secretary of Commerce and USPS consider (1) expanding their current collaborative efforts to include recruiting mail carriers, including retirees, for the 2020 Census, and (2) assessing whether strategies can be developed to reduce the number of "undeliverable as addressed" census mailings. USPS agreed with GAO's recommendations. Commerce disagreed with the second draft recommendation concerning analyzing the reasons for undelivered mailings. GAO revised the recommendation to focus on developing a strategy to help reduce costs involved with processing undelivered mail.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In September 2011 we reported that the 2010 Census address file contained a significant number of undeliverable as addressed census mailings and recommended that the Census Bureau and USPS work together and determine whether strategies can be developed to reduce those mailings. In response to this recommendation the Census Bureau has developed several strategies to reduce the number of undeliverable as addressed mailings. For example, the Census Bureau and USPS have met jointly to discuss ways to reduce "undeliverable as addressed" (UAA) mailings. Further, the Bureau has developed and is taking action on a number of strategies to reduce the UAA workload including a Bureau Geographic Support System Initiative focused on the mailability and deliverability of materials to individual housing units. As part of this initiative the Bureau's Geography Division in late 2011 evaluated the cause of the UAA data and whether there were any associated spatial patterns and has determined that more research needs to be done. The Geography Division is also investigating the feasibility of using of UAAs from American Community Survey to predict issues in the address file. Finally, the 2020 Research and Testing area has developed a database that links all housing unit and response actions-including UAAs, thus allowing the Bureau to look for trends in UAA data.

    Recommendation: Given the importance of Bureau and USPS collaboration in successfully executing census operations, as part of future partnership activities, the Postmaster General and the Secretary of Commerce should direct their agencies to expand their collaborative efforts by assessing whether strategies can be developed to reduce the number of undeliverable as addressed mailings.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In September 2011 we reported that the 2010 Census address file contained a significant number of undeliverable as addressed census mailings and recommended that the Census Bureau and USPS work together to determine whether strategies can be developed to reduce those mailings. In response to this recommendation, the USPS has engaged in collaborative strategies with the Census Bureau to encourage a successful partnership for the future. Since 2014, the USPS has worked with the Census to support 2020 Census planning through established collaboration by the creation of four sub teams composed of representatives from both groups with sub teams meeting jointly to report progress. Specifically related to undeliverable as addressed mailings, during late April and May 2015, the Census held discussions with USPS on the Maricopa Census Test to review requirements and data needed in order to research undeliverable as addressed mailings. The USPS has also agreed to do an onsite review of the National Processing Center mailing service which will provide Census staff with the information needed to choose the appropriate USPS service to achieve research needs for the 2020 Census.

    Recommendation: Given the importance of Bureau and USPS collaboration in successfully executing census operations, as part of future partnership activities, the Postmaster General and the Secretary of Commerce should direct their agencies to expand their collaborative efforts by assessing whether strategies can be developed to reduce the number of undeliverable as addressed mailings.

    Agency Affected: United States Postal Service

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In September 2011, we reported that in hiring for the 2010 Census, the Bureau did not do a targeted recruitment of USPS employees and retirees, resulting in a missed opportunity to hire temporary census workers with a wealth of local knowledge. We recommended the Postmaster General and the Secretary of Commerce should direct their agencies to expand their collaborative efforts by determining if there are ways that the Bureau could work with USPS to target recruitment opportunities to mail carriers. In response to this recommendation the Bureau and USPS have engaged in collaborative strategies to target recruitment opportunities to mail carriers. Specifically, according to the Census Bureau as it considers different staffing strategies, it will leverage various groups of people including current and retired federal employees. In addition, Census officials noted that USPS reported that in remote areas the Bureau would have opportunities to recruit USPS workers.

    Recommendation: Given the importance of Bureau and USPS collaboration in successfully executing census operations, as part of future partnership activities, the Postmaster General and the Secretary of Commerce should direct their agencies to expand their collaborative efforts by determining if there are ways that the Bureau could work with USPS to target recruitment opportunities to mail carriers.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In September 2011, we reported that in hiring for the 2010 Census, the Bureau did not do a targeted recruitment of USPS employees and retirees, resulting in a missed opportunity to hire temporary census workers with a wealth of local knowledge. We recommended the Postmaster General and the Secretary of Commerce should direct their agencies to expand their collaborative efforts by determining if there are ways that the Bureau could work with USPS to target recruitment opportunities to mail carriers. In response to this recommendation the Bureau and USPS have engaged in collaborative strategies to target recruitment opportunities to mail carriers. Specifically, USPS reported that in remote areas they believed the Bureau would have opportunities to recruit USPS workers.

    Recommendation: Given the importance of Bureau and USPS collaboration in successfully executing census operations, as part of future partnership activities, the Postmaster General and the Secretary of Commerce should direct their agencies to expand their collaborative efforts by determining if there are ways that the Bureau could work with USPS to target recruitment opportunities to mail carriers.

    Agency Affected: United States Postal Service

 

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