Ex-officials see successful '10 census despite handheld cuts

Director Louis Kincannon told reporters Tuesday that he expects a successful 2010 U.S. census despite the agency's decision last spring to cut back significantly on the use of handheld computers in the effort.

Shortly after the 2000 census was completed, the agency said that it hoped to go "virtually paperless" in 2010. But by 2007, the census agency's plan hit a significant roadblock after unsuccessful tests of the paperless plans. Last spring, the Census Bureau told Congress that it had decided to scale back its plans to use the handheld computers.

The agency now plans to use Harris Corp. handheld computers with GPS only to verify street addresses of every household in the country.

Kincannon, who headed the bureau for six years under President George W. Bush , and Martha Riche, director of the bureau from 1995 to 1999 under President Bill Clinton , said Tuesday that they expect even limited use of the technology can cut costs and boost the accuracy of the census.

"Checking the address list is so key," said Martha. "The census isn't over until we get a response from every address or find that the address is vacant."

In the press briefing organized by The Census Project , a coalition of groups and companies affected by census results, Kincannon said that overall preparations for the 2010 census deserve a 9 rating on a scale of 10. "I'd say a nine instead of a 10 because of the late change to not use handheld computers in non-responsive follow-up interviews," he said.

Kincannon said the decision to shift from handheld computers to paper-based forms for follow-up interviews will be costly, but assures accuracy as "paper questionnaires have been used for decades."

The agency has estimated that 2010 census will cost as much as US$14.5 billion.

Bureau officials did not respond to requests for comment on the status of the 2010 census.

This story, "Ex-officials see successful '10 census despite handheld cuts" was originally published by Computerworld.

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