Sunday, September 27, 2009

CENSUS NEWS BRIEF #76


September 27, 2009 No. 76


IN THIS CENSUS NEWS BRIEF:
Director Offers Census Operational Update
House Approves Temporary 2010 Funding Bill
Stakeholder Activities: New Toolkit Available
Condolences

CENSUS DIRECTOR DISCUSSES FINAL
PREPARATIONS FOR 2010 COUNT


House stop-gap funding bill includes reprieve for census operations

New census toolkit helps nonprofits promote census


CENSUS DIRECTOR LAYS OUT PROGRESS AND
CHALLENGES IN ADVANCE OF 2010 CENSUS

House Panel Assesses Status of Communications Campaign

Census Bureau Director Robert Groves said last week that the agency was "on target for major operations" six months before Census Day (April 1, 2010), calling the 2010 decennial count "a gigantic mobilization of resources" at his first media briefing since taking office in July. Dr. Groves, an internationally-known expert in survey methodology, told reporters gathered at the National Press Club in Washington, DC that the "behavior of the American public is the keystone" to the success of the census, explaining that it is a "challenge" to estimate the initial response rate, due in part to a higher vacancy rate caused by the recession and foreclosure crisis. The director noted that the Census Bureau would save $90 million for every one percent of households that mail back their census forms. Answering the census "is something you can do to help reduce the federal deficit," he observed.

The Census Bureau completed the first major field operation, Address Canvassing, on time last spring, Dr. Groves said, and the agency is now evaluating the Master Address File that defines the universe for the enumeration. State and local governments participating in the Local Update of Census Addresses (LUCA) program will have a final opportunity this fall to review the updated address list for their jurisdiction and appeal addresses they believe were mistakenly excluded.

The next major census operation, Group Quarters Validation, starts this week. Field staff will visit all addresses marked as "other living quarters" during the Address Canvassing operation, to verify their classification as group living facilities, such as college dorms, nursing homes, prisons, and military barracks, and other unusual living situations, such as campgrounds and marinas. Census takers will visit all group quarters next February, to arrange for the enumeration in April and early May. Census staff work with group facility administrators to distribute modified census forms -- called Individual Census Reports -- to residents; they also have the authority to request administrative records from group facilities in order to count residents who do not or cannot fill out a form.

From October through December, the Census Bureau will open 500 Local Census Offices (LCOs) nationwide. (About 150 of those offices were operational during Address Canvassing.) Local offices are responsible for training and supervising the 1.2 million temporary employees who will fan out across the country starting in May, to collect information from households that do not return a census form by mail (or respond by telephone). The printing of 183 million questionnaires, as well as 15 million bilingual forms, is "on schedule" and using much of the nation's printing capacity, the director said. Three data processing centers -- in Phoenix, Baltimore, and Jeffersonville, IN -- are open, and the Census Bureau is preparing to open call centers in late February, to field questions about completing census forms. The bureau and its advertising contractor, Draftfcb, are finalizing the paid media campaign, which will launch with an "awareness" phase in January. "Things are looking pretty good," Dr. Groves said about preparations for the 2010 count, but there is "much to do."

Census operations actually start in late January, when census takers will visit and enumerate households in remote Alaskan villages before the spring thaw makes it difficult to reach many of these communities.

Confidence in 2010 census design cited: The director said he believed the 2010 census design was an improvement over 2000, citing the first-time use of targeted bilingual (English-Spanish) census forms and replacement questionnaires for low mail response areas, as well as the decision to drop a longer, sample questionnaire that he said placed a burden on the public and reduced cooperation. (The ongoing American Community Survey has replaced the traditional long form, collecting a wider range of demographic, economic, and housing information than the six-topic 2010 census.) He also pointed to new questions on the census form -- called "coverage questions" -- that will help the Census Bureau identify people who may have been counted twice (such as forms that include students away at college) or mistakenly left off of questionnaires. The Census Bureau will follow-up by telephone with many of the households where the coverage questions indicate a duplicate count or missing people.

Dr. Groves applauded the additional funds for outreach and promotion in the stimulus bill Congress passed last winter, saying the extra money was helping the Census Bureau reach "trusted voices" at the community level through the Partnership Program. "I am quite comfortable that we have planned a better census than we executed in 2000," the director concluded.

Census Bureau faces challenges in months ahead: Dr. Groves also discussed a number of challenges the Census Bureau faces as the start of the 2010 census approaches. He said that the senior 2010 census team was "structured well to identify management risk" but had less high-level experience conducting a census than had teams in the past. The director said he was supplementing the management group with seasoned outside advisers: Former Census Director Kenneth Prewitt; former Associate Director for Decennial Census John Thompson; and former Chief Financial Officer Nancy Potok. (See the July 5, 2009 Census News Brief #68 for more information on the three advisers, who were originally appointed by Commerce Secretary Gary Locke while the U.S. Senate delayed a vote on Dr. Groves' nomination. Dr. Potok is now the Deputy Under Secretary for Economic Affairs, Department of Commerce.) Dr. Groves also noted the retirement of key mathematical statisticians, a problem he said was shared by other federal statistical agencies.

Dr. Groves emphasized the importance of maintaining the Census Bureau as a "nonpartisan and apolitical agency." "I need to fight that battle daily," the director said, later clarifying in response to a reporter's question that he was not under pressure to politicize the census, but that it "isn't unusual" for people "with very strong political views [to] care about the census." The agency, he said, must acknowledge the political uses of census data but work to "ensure that the process can never be politicized."

Development of software for processing information collected during door-to-door visits from unresponsive households was proceeding "on schedule" but under "very tight" deadlines, Dr. Groves said, noting the late decision to revert to a pencil-and-paper follow-up method when the Census Bureau lost confidence in its ability to use new GPS-equipped handheld computers for the vast field operation. He also said the quality of the final address list was a factor in the success of the census.

The director cited "the new media environment," including the "blogosphere," as a challenge, and said the agency would launch web-based outreach in the next several weeks. He also reminded reporters that there will not be an Internet response option in 2010, saying he feared possible deceptive web sites to trick the public into providing personal information to scammers. The director has established an internal working group to monitor possible Internet deception during the census.

Over the longer term, Dr. Groves said, he is "worried and concerned about cost estimation and cost control" for the census. In testimony last week before the House Subcommittee on Information Policy, Census, and National Archives, Director Groves said there were cost overruns in parts of the Address Canvassing operation, suggesting a problem with cost models used to predict total costs.

House panel reviews 2010 census communications campaign: The House subcommittee responsible for census oversight also focused on the 2010 Census Integrated Communications Campaign, which Chairman William "Lacy" Clay said "could play a key role in reducing the undercount, as it did in 2000," at its hearing on September 22.

Judith Gordon, Principal Assistant Inspector General for Audit and Evaluation, Department of Commerce, told panel members that the Census Bureau "has been diligent in its management and monitoring" of the $300 million communications contract with Draftfcb, but that the advertising agency's initial communications plan and delivery of promotional items to Regional Census Offices were delayed. The Inspector General's office is continuing to monitor the Partnership Program, another key component of the effort to educate the public about the importance of the census and to encourage participation. Ms. Gordon noted that the Census Bureau recently met its goal of hiring an additional 2,027 partnership staff using $120 million in stimulus bill funds.

Jeff Tarakajian, Chairman and CEO of Draftfcb, also testified at the oversight hearing. A full set of statements from the session is available at http://informationpolicy.oversight.house.gov/story.asp?ID=2600.

HOUSE APPROVES ONE MONTH STOP-GAP FUNDING MEASURE

Facing the end of the fiscal year with no annual spending bills signed into law, the U.S. House of Representatives approved, by a vote of 217 - 190, a temporary funding measure -- called a Continuing Resolution (CR) -- that would fully fund preparations for the 2010 census while Congress works to complete final appropriations measures for Fiscal Year 2010. The U.S. Senate will take up the bill early this week, before the new budget year starts on October 1.

H.R. 2918 allocates $7.066 billion for the Census Bureau's Periodic Censuses and Programs ("Periodics") account, to keep 2010 census operations moving forward as planned and on schedule. The bill would fund federal agencies and programs through October 31, most at their current (Fiscal Year 2009) levels; appropriators carved out an exception for the 2010 census, which falls under the Periodics account. Limiting the Census Bureau's spending to current year levels would jeopardize final preparations for the 2010 census, since the agency's funding will more than double from 2009 to 2010. (The Continuing Resolution was attached to the regular funding bill for the Legislative Branch.)

The House-passed stop-gap Census Bureau funding level matches the amount the Senate Appropriations Committee approved in its version of the Fiscal Year 2010 Commerce, Justice, and Science bill in July. That committee reduced the agency's 2010 census budget request by $50 million, which it said reflected inflated assumptions about the cost of mileage reimbursement for census field workers. (The full Senate has not yet considered the measure.)

The House of Representatives approved its version of the FY2010 Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations bill (H.R. 2847) in June, appropriating $6.91 billion for Periodic Censuses and Programs. House appropriators said they believed the Census Bureau could supplement that amount with $206 million left over from 2009; the Census Bureau said it had already obligated those funds for media buys in 2010.

STAKEHOLDER ACTIVITIES

New toolkit helps nonprofits promote 2010 census: The Nonprofit Voter Engagement Network (NVEN) has prepared a comprehensive toolkit to help state and local organizations promote participation in the upcoming census among their members and the people they serve at the community level.

Available on a CD-ROM and on-line, "A Census Toolkit for Nonprofit Organizations: Mobilizing Communities for the 2010 Census" includes fact sheets in English and Spanish, sample census questionnaires, a 2010 Census partnership agreement form, and other resources. Visit http://www.nonprofitscount.org/ to order a toolkit and to access other information prepared for the Nonprofits Count! campaign.

CONDOLENCES

We extend our deepest sympathies to Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and her family on the loss of the congresswoman's husband, Clifton Maloney. Mr. Maloney passed away during a mountain climbing expedition in the Himalayas this weekend.

Rep. Maloney has served on the House census oversight subcommittee for many years, including as the panel's ranking Democratic member during the 2000 census. She has been instrumental in keeping her congressional colleagues informed about the importance of the census and the work of the Census Bureau generally.

Census News Briefs are prepared by Terri Ann Lowenthal, an independent legislative and policy consultant specializing in the census and federal statistics. All views expressed in the News Briefs are solely those of the author. Please direct questions about the information in this News Brief to Ms. Lowenthal at TerriAnn2K@aol.com. Please feel free to circulate this document to other interested individuals and organizations. Ms. Lowenthal is a consultant to the nonpartisan Census Project, organized by the Communications Consortium Media Center in Washington, DC. Previous Census News Briefs are posted at www.thecensusproject.org.

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