Sen. Carper Questions if 2010 Census is on Track and on Budget

HSGAC Senators Ask If Handheld Computers Will Still Be Used For Census Taking

WASHINGTON – Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) today questioned top government officials about whether the 2010 census is on track and if, as planned, handheld computers will be used to collect valuable demographic information over the next two years.

Chairing a Homeland and Government Services Committee (HSGAC) hearing, “Census in Peril: Getting the 2010 Decentennial Back on Track,” Sen. Carper sought answers to recent problems with the census bureau’s plans to execute key aspects of its 2010 census. Top government witnesses today included Commerce Secretary Carlos M. Gutierrez and Census Bureau Director Steven H. Murdock.

For several years, Sen. Carper’s Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management, Government Information, Federal Services and International Security has held oversight hearings to gauge progress in planning for the 2010 census.

The U.S. Constitution requires the federal government to conduct a census every 10 years. The data collected is used to determine federal assistance to states and to determine the makeup the federal government itself, including what areas are represented by 435 seats in the House of Representatives.

“It is so important that this census is done right. We only conduct the census once every 10 years and the data it produces determines everything from the makeup of our congressional districts to how much funding states receive for federal programs,” Sen. Carper said. “With cost estimates for this census now reaching up to $11.8 billion we have an obligation to the American people to conduct an accurate and cost-effective 2010 census.”

Among the largest and most problematic issues have been the $600 million government contract to develop handheld computers to collect census information door-to-door from Americans who do not return mail-in questionnaires. Several incidents in recent months have raised serious doubts about whether the census bureau can control rising contract costs or whether these computers will be ready at all.

“I fear the successful implementation of 2010 decennial census could be at risk because the bureau did not heed early warnings of problems with its hand-held computer system,” Sen. Carper said. “Right now, the census bureau should be in the middle of its scheduled dress rehearsal, but instead the bureau is still trying to salvage a hand-held computer plan and facing serious cost overruns.”

Today, Sen. Carper cautioned that the census bureau must make a decision soon whether to use these hand-held computers to collect data or whether to transfer to rely upon paper records before census cost overruns explode.