US Census: The future is paper

US Census: The future is paper

Summary: So it's not just elections. Seems that paper is the way to go for the national Census, as well.

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So it's not just elections. Seems that paper is the way to go for the national Census, as well. A $600 million contract to Harris Corp. to design and create handheld computers for the census takers is now just yet another government IT fiasco, Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, plans to tell Congress today, according to the NextGov blog (or so it claims to be though it sports no RSS).

"Today I am reporting to this committee that we will move forward with the recommendation to use a paper-based [nonresponse follow-up] in the 2010 decennial census," according to Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez's testimony he plans to give to the House Appropriations Committee on Commerce, Justice and Science, and which Nextgov has obtained.


US Census photo

Seems a dress rehearsal in May 2007 first identified multitudinous problems; a month ago Gutierrez said there were "significant miscommunication concerning technical requirements between the Census Bureau and Harris."

That smells like typical weak government IT project management syndrome. And Harris was having none of it.

"The handheld devices are one part of a larger, multifaceted process to move from a 'paper culture' to an 'automation' culture appropriate for the 21st century. We understand that such a significant cultural shift presents organizational challenges to any organization, and Harris is encouraged that automation is moving forward, even if in a more narrowly focused fashion. The company and its industry partners are committed to helping the Census Bureau make the 2010 census the most complete, secure and accurate in history."
Making the switch back to paper, though unavoidable at this point, raises the cost of the Census some $3 billion to as much as $14.5 billion.

Topics: Government US, CXO, Enterprise Software, Government, Hardware, Mobility, Software

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3 comments
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  • This is a simple database app requirement

    How hard is it to transfer a paper fill-in the blank to a
    database form, put it on a laptop and done. They still have
    to transfer the paper document to a database at some point
    to do the analysis.
    LittleGuy
  • Typical...

    In other words, no one at the census bureau knows how to work a PDA, or how to interface it to their network (if they have one), or...
    fewiii
  • RE: US Census: The future is paper

    In Aug. of last year I applied for census work and was hired and trained as a crew supervisor which in turn required training and supervising 20 other people to use the Harris Handheld Computer (the HHC in Censusspeak) to verify and count addresses.

    The only thing that was more of a nightmare than the HHC constantly being unable to function so that I would be unable to transmit assignments to a crew of people eager for work was dealing with imbecilic decisions of managment people at the Census Bureau.

    Because Census Bureau management made the decision to start their project several month behind schedule, management wound up pushing everyone, using constant threats of immediate dismissal if the project, which crews were told would take 10 weeks, was not finished in five and a half.

    I suspect that managers at the Census Bureau are happy to compromise the quality of the census and abuse temporary employees if it means keeping control of more of the budget money that might have assured better quality results and avoided the lawsuits for alleged undercounting that happened during the 2000 census.

    Temporary census workers were repeatedly threatened in writing during training with dismissal if they worked overtime and yet required to crunch the originally stated 10 week into juster over five.
    applejacks13