Census ‘Successfully Completed’ Work to Date Despite ‘Shaky’ Computer Problems, Census Director Says

By Nicholas Ballasy | July 9, 2010 | 7:13 PM EDT

A copy of a 2010 Census form. (AP Photo/Idaho Press-Tribune, Charlie Litchfield)

(CNSNews.com) - The director of the U.S. Census Bureau, Dr. Robert Groves, told CNSNews.com that the Census “successfully completed” all operations to date despite a “shaky” information technology (IT) system that affected the early weeks of door-to-door counting.
He added that he does not have “any evidence” that the IT problems had a “quality impact” on the accuracy of the population count, but encouraged people to wait for a final report that will be issued by the Commerce Department’s inspector general to “see what he has to say” as an “independent voice.”
At the National Press Club last week, CNSNews.com asked Groves, “The inspector general’s office at the Commerce Department has continually said that IT problems will affect the accuracy of the Census – the counting. Could you talk a little bit about any progress that’s been made and have IT problems affected the accuracy of the Census thus far?”

Groves answered, “So, I did mention in my opening remarks the shaky start that we had with this software system for operation control – and it was shaky. But I also reported that, over the weeks – the early weeks of the non-response follow-up – those were largely, well I can say those were completely fixed and we successfully completed that.” (Dr. Groves spoke with CNSNews.com after a press conference at the National Press Club sponsored by the Census Bureau.)
Groves continued: “Your question is about a quality impact of software systems – that’s actually a tougher question to answer. I can say we finished the production in the way we wanted to, you know, and then we have to speculate. So the speculation would have to – the area that we’re interested in asking about this – would have to do with a delay of processing in some cases in the early days and we can study that. We can study the effect of that.
“So far, I don’t have any evidence that there’s a quality impact,” said Groves. “I think we spent more money in the early weeks because of these problems. But, as it turns out, not a whole lot of money, and we completed this successfully. So, a good thing would be to look at the IG’s report after we finished all this and see what he has to say for an independent voice.”
Notably, the inspector general’s office at the Commerce Department highlighted the Census’ IT issues in its May 5, 2010 report specifically involving the paper-based operations control system (PBOCS), which is used to manage the Census’ ongoing door-to-door interviews of households that did not mail back their Census forms.
This is what the bureau calls the non-response follow-up (NRFU) operation. It is the bureau’s largest and most costly procedure.
“Unless PBOCS stability improves substantially, the cost of the NRFU operation, its timely completion, and the accuracy of its count are at risk,” said the report.  
CNSNews.com also asked Groves if he thought handheld computers should be implemented rather than the paper-based system for the non-response follow-ups, the Census’ largest operation.
“All of us would agree that a successful handheld could have made this operation smoother but we didn’t have a successful handheld at the moment a decision had to be made,” said Groves.
However, he was unable to comment on why the late design change from handheld computers to the paper-based system was made.
“I haven’t done, you know, the kind of evaluative investigation I could do in the handheld,” Groves said. “When I came in, we were in the midst of the 2010 Census.
“I haven’t had the luxury to go back and kind of do a post-mortem on that, and so it’s only from third or fourth hand that I would be able to answer your question, and that isn’t useful,” he added.