Census Bureau Says Population Count 'Not Over' Despite Claim of $1.6 Billion Cost Savings for 2010 Census

By Nicholas Ballasy | August 13, 2010 | 2:08 PM EDT

(CNSNews.com)- The director of the U.S. Census Bureau, Dr. Robert Groves, said the 2010 Census is “not over” despite the Commerce Department’s announcement that the Census saved $1.6 billion in operating costs for the fiscal year 2010. Some House Republicans, meanwhile, charged that the $1.6 billion in claimed savings was “deceptive."
“The Census is not over even though we’ve made this announcement of cost savings,” said Dr. Groves at the National Press Club announcing the status of the 2010 Census.  “We’re still plugging away trying to improve the count as best we can. So now let me look forward.”

“There’s an operation that’s going to start pretty soon,” he said. “We call it the coverage measurement operation. What’s that all about? That is a very large, highest quality survey we can possibly do.”
“The purpose of the survey is to estimate how good the Census is,” he said.
Groves continued, “It is a sample of about 187,000 housing units around the country. Interviewers are going to start knocking on those doors. You have about a 1-in-700 chance of having your house in that sample. So not very many houses are going to be in the sample. The interviewers are going to look different, too, than our enumerators.”
Groves also broke down the month-by-month deadlines for the completion of the entire Census.
“We have a real hard deadline of December 31st to present to the country, to the president, the state level counts,” he said.  “And we're tasked with the arithmetic of figuring out how many representatives each state gets. So by December 31st, that will be revealed; state level counts, House members per state."
From February through March of 2011, the Census will reveal “the state-by-state data that will be used for redistricting within the states,” said Groves, who added that this will be “a file that has block level counts by race, ethnicity and housing unit counts by occupancy status.”
In April 2011, the Census will release “population in housing counts for the US, for regions, divisions, broken by American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian areas,” said Groves.
“In May, we will release population and housing characteristics for areas including Congressional districts for the 111th Congress,” he said.
A spokesperson for the U.S. Census Bureau told CNSNews.com that the Bureau is “confident” that it can complete the entire Census without tapping into the $1.6 billion that was returned to the U.S. treasury.
“Are we budgeted for the rest of the year? Well, we’re clearly budgeted for the duration and we’re confident that we can finish up a professional job without calling on that $1.6 billion,” said the spokesperson.
The Republicans on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, however, called the Census’ savings “deceptive.”
“The original life cycle cost of the 2010 Census was estimated at $11.3 billion, according to a non-partisan GAO report, yet due to Commerce Department mismanagement and weak congressional oversight, the budget soared to more than $16 billion, allowing the Obama administration to falsely claim the estimated $14.4 billion final cost of the Census ‘saved’ taxpayers money,” said a statement from the committee Republicans.
The Commerce Department says the $1.6 billion savings accounts for 22 percent of the bureau’s operating budget for the fiscal year 2010, the total of which the Office of the Inspector General (IG) reported was $7.4 billion.
According to the GAO report from March 2006 referenced by the Republicans on the committee, the U.S. Census Bureau under the Bush administration estimated the entire 2010 Census to cost “around $11.3 billion, which would make it the most expensive census in our country’s history, even after adjusting for inflation.”
In another GAO report from June 2008, entitled, 2010 Census: Census Bureau Should Take Action to Improve the Credibility and Accuracy of Its Cost Estimate for the Decennial Census, the Census Bureau under the Bush administration raised its cost estimate for the 2010 Census to between $13.7 billion and $14.5 billion.
The final cost estimate for the 2010 Census was $14.7 billion, more than double the $6.5 billion cost of the 2000 Census, according to the GAO.
In reference to the Republican criticism about the alleged savings in the 2010 Census, Burton H. Reist, assistant director of communications at the Commerce Department, said, “The life cycle cost estimate for the 2010 Census was indeed $11.3 billion when the GAO reported, cited below, was written in 2006, however it was subsequently revised to $11.6 billion.”
He continued: “In the spring of 2008, the 2010 Census was redesigned due to problems in the development of the handheld computers and the life cycle cost estimate was increased to $14.7 billion as a result. These figures have been discussed in Census testimony, included in our budget submissions to Congress, and addressed in GAO and OIG reports.  The life cycle estimate has never been higher than $14.7 billion.”
 “Earlier this week, we announced that we are returning $1.6 billion due to 2010 Census operational savings,” said Reist. “The savings occurred because the American people stepped up -- 72 percent of households returned the questionnaire by mail so there were lower costs in following up on households; because contingency funding set aside for disasters or major operational breakdowns was not tapped; and a more productive workforce completed assignments more efficiently.”