Concerns Raised about Census Preparations, Cost

The bipartisan leaders of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee have raised concerns about preparations for the 2020 census, including whether the Census Bureau will be able to carry out planned modernization that it is counting on to save costs.

A letter to the Bureau notes that administering the next census in the same way as the 2010 headcount would cost an estimated $17.8 billion, a $5 billion increase. The agency is hoping to hold the cost about steady instead, by reengineering various processes and making more use of records from third-party providers including other agencies.

The GAO and the Commerce IG “have determined the Bureau’s cost estimates may not be accounting for significant risks that caused overruns in the 2010 census,” the letter says, and the Bureau itself recently agreed that it underestimated the cost of a critical piece of the 2020 initiative.

Also, “a much smaller digitization effort” in 2010 “failed,” actually increasing costs, it adds.

The committee asked for a full accounting of current cost projections, a description of how the Bureau is responding to recommendations of the prior reviews, and related information.