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Census To Cost Less Than Expected

By New York Times, New York Times - August 10, 2010

The Census Bureau said Tuesday that its 2010 count would cost about $1.6 billion less than budgeted. This would work out to about 11 percent less than the $14.7 billion appropriated over 12 years for the decennial count or 22 percent less than the budget for this year.

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“The savings occurred primarily because contingency funding set aside for disasters or major operational failures was not tapped,” bureau officials said, “and because the census questionnaire mail-back response rate and workforce productivity across field operations both beat expectations.”

Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said “with proficient management, the cooperation of the American public and a little bit of luck, the census stayed on track with significant cost savings to taxpayers.”

One reason: the census enumerators who conducted follow-up interviews, knocking on the doors of those who did not return the mailed questionnaire, were better educated and more experienced than expected — presumably because the recession had expanded the hiring pool.

The 565,000 enumerators’ interviews were completed in an average of a little more than two visits, well short of the maximum six visits.

About 72 percent of households returned the mailed questionnaires and enumerators knocked on 47 million doors. The bureau’s field operations will wind down at the end of this month and the number crunching will begin. The deadline for delivering the count to the president is Dec. 31.

Census officials said the mail participation rate matched the rate in 2000, despite declining response rates to surveys in general, and that the rate in areas that were considered harder to count improved compared to 10 years earlier.

Steve Jost, the bureau’s communications director, credited the bureau’s advertising program, a real-time monitoring of the response rate, bilingual forms, the cooperation of 255,000 partner organizations and the leadership of the census director, Robert M. Groves, who joined the bureau in July 2009.

This was still the most expensive census ever. For the 2000 count, the bureau was budgeted for $7 billion, but underspent by $305 million, or less than 1/20 of the 12-year budget.

Officials said that even the bureau’s information technology system performed better than expected.

About $800 million was saved because no natural disasters or epidemics impeded the count. Another $650 million was saved because the higher than projected mail response rate spared additional follow-ups in person.

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