Census to use Web in future counts

By Suzanne Kubota
Senior Internet Editor

The Census Bureau continues its 2010 population count, but they’re not wasting any time with a plan to use the Internet 10 years from now in the next census.

Director Robert Groves told Federal News Radio the Bureau is already planning to test using the Internet using the American Community Survey (ACS).

“One of the things I’m committed to,” said Groves, “is to using the surveys, especially the American Community Survey as a platform to test various ideas for 2020.”

The ACS is an ongoing survey by the Census Bureau, sent out to about a quarter of a million addresses a month. Since Congress is working on a bill that would require Census to come up with a plan for how the Internet could be used in the next decennial count, Groves sees the ACS as the way to do that.

That’s a great example of using our existing resources to try to control the cost of planning the next 2020 census and getting real time information.

Currently, the ACS is a “three mode survey” said Groves, made up of a mail questionnaire, telephone, and a face-to-face component, “and the Internet component will be the fourth mode.”

Using the ACS and drawing on lessons learned will be where to start, said Groves, but the trick will be not to get the cart before horse.

We are watching what’s happening in other countries and I think this is going to be a key tool to measure the American public for years on in, but we have to realize that vehicle, the Internet, will constantly be changing too. So the wisdom that we need here is to not lock into a particular design too early.

Lessons Learned

Asked about the handheld devices and the problems surrounding that effort, Groves said he hasn’t had time, yet, to go back and review “that episode in the history of the Census Bureau. I’ve been totally up to my ears in getting the 2010 Census done.”

However, Groves noted there are “ingredients of problems that exist in many large acquisitions” and that he does see signs of them in the handhelds. First, he said, “is this need to constantly be in touch with users” by developers. The problem, said Groves, is that users don’t really know all their needs until they have a prototype.

That issue, said Groves, extends to the current problem Census has been dealing with: the paper-based operations control system. While most of the problems have reportedly been corrected, Groves told Federal News Radio “we have some software systems that are still pretty shaky”.

2010 Update

As for the count underway, Groves said the Bureau is “making good progress. The enumeration, the completion of the questionnaires is right on target.”

The 2010 Census is to be completed, compiled and delivered to the President in December.

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