Halfway to the 2020 Census

census3Today marks the halfway point between the last decennial census and the next one in 2020. The census is a massive undertaking, and its costs have increased by more than 500 percent over the past 50 years. The Census Bureau is considering new approaches to save money. However, mistakes from the last census—specifically the abandoned handheld data collection devices with $3 billion in cost overruns—loom large. Today’s WatchBlog explores the issues.

How to Stem Rising Costs?

The cost of counting each housing unit escalated from around $14 in 1970 to around $94 in 2010, in constant 2010 dollars, as shown below. To help address these rising costs, the Census Bureau is exploring ways to improve how it follows up with people who don’t initially respond. This is important because, in recent counts, about a third of households didn’t participate without an in-person visit. Historically, these visits have been the most costly part of the census.


(Excerpted from GAO-15-21)

Through its research and testing program—and with advice and recommendations from external stakeholders, including GAO—the Bureau has identified 4 ways to save money:

  1. Eliminate nationwide door-to-door operations to list all of the addresses in the country;
  2. Optimize self-response by communicating the importance of the 2020 Census to the public, and encouraging use of the Internet for follow-ups;
  3. Use other data sources such as information that households have already provided to the government to reduce the burden on the public and the need for follow-up; and
  4. Increase use of technology to more efficiently and effectively manage fieldwork.

Although these changes are promising, we’ve recommended improvements. For example, in October 2014 we found weaknesses in

  • Identifying other data sources. The Bureau didn’t consistently document the cost and quality information that management would need to make data source decisions. The Bureau agreed with us and is working to improve.
  • IT infrastructure for self-response. While the Bureau is working to develop an Internet response option, it hadn’t developed a reliable way to predict the Internet response rate or IT infrastructure needs.

At the end of this fiscal year, the Bureau will announce preliminary design decisions for the 2020 Census, as shown in the timeline below. To help Congress ensure it stays on track for the 2020 Census, we will continue to assess the Bureau’s decisions and plans.


(Excerpted from GAO-15-21)

  • Questions on the content of this post? Contact Robert Goldenkoff at goldenkoffr@gov.
  • Comments on GAO’s WatchBlog? Contact blog@gao.gov.
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Sharing Data to Improve Disaster Response and Recovery Programs

data1Since 2013, our Government Data Sharing Community of Practice has hosted a series of public discussions on challenges and opportunities related to sharing data in government. Read on for the findings of our latest forum on how government can use data to improve responses to natural disasters.

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Surplus DOD Real Estate and Infrastructure

thumbnail_defenseThe Department of Defense (DOD) owns more than 562,000 military support facilities including barracks, commissaries, labs, and office buildings. These facilities are located on more than 5,000 sites covering more than 28 million acres worldwide.


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Know before You Go: Weighing the Costs of College

cash1Ah, springtime—when high school seniors’ thoughts turn to checking their real and virtual mailboxes for news from colleges and universities. But the college selection journey doesn’t end with an offer of admission. Prospective students and their families must also consider the costs of higher education. Today’s WatchBlog explores the issues, and offers some ways to avoid college cost pitfalls.

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Podcast on IRS Controls over Financial and Taxpayer Data

GAO Podcast IconThe Internal Revenue Service relies extensively on computer systems and information security controls to protect taxpayers’ sensitive personal and financial data.

Hear our podcast with Greg Wilshusen, a director in GAO’s Information Technology team, who led a recent review of IRS information security policies, plans, and procedures.

Posted in Information Security, Information Technology, Podcast

Our Annual “Quick Look” at DOD’s Weapon Programs

thumbnail_defenseLast week, we issued our annual review of the Department of Defense’s (DOD) major weapon programs. This review assessed 78 programs that will cost a combined $1.4 trillion to acquire. Read on for highlights of our latest DOD “Quick Look” report.

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Podcast on Oversight of DHS Acquisitions

GAO Podcast IconIn fiscal year 2014, the Department of Homeland Security planned to spend about $10 billion to acquire tools to protect against terrorism, disease, natural hazards, and border violations.

Hear our podcast with Michele Mackin, a director in GAO’s Acquisition and Sourcing Management team, who led a recent review of DHS’s oversight of its major acquisition programs.

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U.S. Railroads: On the Right Track?

train1With over 780 passenger and freight railroads, more than 230,000 employees, and 200,000 miles of track, the U.S. railroad system plays a critical role in our nation’s infrastructure.

Today’s WatchBlog explores how safe our rails are, and what the future holds for the U.S. railroad system.

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Hazardous Driving: Unsecured Loads on Our Roadways

thumbnail_transportationHave you ever nervously driven behind a car with a mattress loosely tied to its roof, or a pickup truck with the bed filled to overflowing? These unsecured loads can pose a serious hazard to other motorists, potentially leading to injuries, property damage, and fatalities. For example, in April 2012, a pedestrian in Florida was seriously injured after being hit by a mattress and metal frame that fell off a vehicle.

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Big Data 101: Using Large-Scale Data Mining to Find Fraud

thumbnail_itYou may have heard the term “big data” or “data mining,” but what do those terms mean? Today’s WatchBlog sheds light on how GAO analyzes large amounts of data to identify instances of potential improper payments or fraud.

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