A $30 Billion US census!?

Cost of developing US Census has doubled every decade since 1970

The number seemed staggering, but there it was.  The cost of conducting the census has, on average, doubled each decade since 1970. If that rate of cost escalation continues into 2020, the nation could be looking at a $30 billion census

That was the conclusion of the Government Accountability Office in a report issued this week on the status of some of the Census Bureaus key systems. 

"Rigorous planning and perhaps even a fundamental reexamination of the census might be required because the current approach to the national enumeration may no longer be financially sustainable," the repot stated.

While the GAO report was generally positive on current plans for next year's census, it was critical of the Bureau's cost estimating ability.  

Problems with accurately estimating the cost of address canvassing are indicative of long-standing weaknesses in the Bureau's ability to develop credible and accurate cost estimates for the 2010 Census. Accurate cost estimates are essential to a successful census because they help ensure that the Bureau has adequate funds and that Congress, the administration, and the Bureau itself can have reliable information on which to base decisions, the repot stated.  The GAO noted that the Bureau's estimate lacked detailed documentation on data sources and significant assumptions, and was not comprehensive. 

The GAO noted that automation and IT systems will play a critical role in the ability of the Bureau's ongoing work to extract address lists, maps, and provide other geographic support services. But the GAO said the database and other software testing critical to such systems was incomplete. 

The GAO noted to that one of the Bureau's largest cost will come from the census field operation next summer that looks to gather data from people who didn't respond to the census questionnaire. Based on the expected mail response rate, the Bureau estimates that over 570,000 workers will need to be hired for that operation.  The FBI currently charges the Census Bureau $17.25 per person for each background check for these employees.

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