E-Count: Electronic Field Data Collection Under Fire for 2010 Census

Revised requirements could result in significant cost increases estimated to range from $600 million to $2 billion.

by / March 25, 2008

The controversy over the reliability and accuracy of electronic voting equipment which has plagued the current election cycle appears to have spread to the 2010 Census. At issue are handheld tabulating devices to be used by census takers as a way to speed data collection and reduce costs.

Early this year, two members of Congress asked for a hearing on the Field Data Collection Automation Program (FDCA), a $600 million contract awarded in 2006. An independent assessment of the program pointed out some risks and suggested that paper backup forms be considered.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) then reported earlier this month on the FDCA "Dress Rehearsal" that began in Feb 2006 and is scheduled to run through June 2009, pointing out a number of risk factors -- including slow and inconsistent data transmission from the devices.

"Without effective management of these and other key risks," said the GAO in its report, "the FDCA program faced an increased probability that the system would not be delivered on schedule and within budget or perform as expected. Accordingly, GAO recommended that the FDCA project team strengthen its risk management activities, including risk identification and oversight.

"The Bureau has recently made efforts to further define the requirements for the FDCA program," continued the report, "and it has estimated that the revised requirements will result in significant cost increases. Rough estimates shared with the Congress and the Administration range from $600 million to $2 billion; however, specific programs and operations affected have not been identified, nor has the Bureau decided on a clear approach to address these issues. In view of the time frames for the 2010 Census, it is essential that the Bureau act rapidly to make decisions and to implement GAO's recommendations."

Wayne Hanson Senior Executive Editor, Center For Digital Government