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4/3/2008
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No Handheld Devices For 2010 Census

The Commerce Department halts its upgrade after scheduling and performance problems, as well as cost overruns, derail the plan.

The 2010 Census will be less high-tech than planned.

Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez told members of Congress on Thursday that census workers will use paper questionnaires to follow up with citizens who don't respond to the bureau's first attempts to gather their information through the mail. Gutierrez said the move will cost $2 billion to $3 billion.

The total cost of the 2010 Census is expected to reach between $13.7 billion and $14.5 billion.

The bureau had planned to use handheld devices from Harris Corp., but the switch fell behind because of scheduling and performance problems, and cost overruns helped derail the plan.

"The situation today is unacceptable, and we have been taking steps to address the issues," Gutierrez said.

The Census Bureau decided to automate data collection after the 2000 Census and to develop a system internally. After a test in 2004, Census Bureau leaders realized the enormity of the task and decided they needed outside expertise, Gutierrez said.

In 2006, they signed a contract with Harris for a comprehensive approach to the use of handheld computers and IT systems to manage the 2010 Census. The following year, employees did a "dress rehearsal" for address canvassing and reported problems with the systems. Consultants, the Government Accountability Office, and the Inspector General confirmed the problems.

Late last year, the Census Bureau identified more than 400 new or clarified technical problems and created a Risk Reduction Task Force. That group recommended urgent action. An expert panel then recommended the old-fashioned way (paper) to ensure that the 2010 Census goes smoothly.

However, the attempted switch to handheld devices wasn't a complete loss, according to Gutierrez, who told members of Congress on Thursday that Harris handheld GPS devices will allow for the most accurate and comprehensive address list in the census' history.

"The American people expect and deserve a timely and accurate decennial census, and we at the department are working tirelessly to ensure they get it," he said.

More than 140,000 people will canvass the Census Bureau's 12 regional centers, while another 580,000 enumerators will count America's residents.

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