2010 Census saved $1.6 billion

Tuesday - 8/10/2010, 8:00am EDT

By Jason Miller
Executive Editor
Federal News Radio

The Census Bureau reported today that it saved at least $1.6 billion, about 22 percent, of its costs in 2010.

Commerce Secretary Gary Locke and Census Director Robert Groves announced the savings Tuesday at the National Press Club in Washington.

Overall, Census expected to spend $7.4 billion for the 2010 count. Since 1999, the bureau has spent about $14.7 billion.

Before the official announcement was made, a Census official spoke on background during a conference call with reporters. The official said the bureau attributes three main reasons for the savings.

The official says Census expects to save $800 million because it did not have to tap into a contingency fund for "unforeseen events we planned for, such as natural disasters or the H1N1 flu pandemic."

"We were worried it would be hard to hire 565,000 people to the count, or it might discourage people from opening their doors, or if we faced operational challenges such as complex technology systems we had to design and build at the last minute to deal with massive operation," the official says.

Census says it will save about $650 million from having to do fewer door-to-door interviews.

"Census takers knocked on 47 million doors and we had a more experienced and higher educated workforce, and they got their work done more efficiently than expected," the official says.

Census saved travel and other costs because fielder workers on average had to knock on a door just over two times.

The bureau achieved the final $150 million in savings from improving internal operations, the official says.

The official says it's up to Congress about where the $1.6 billion will go. The official says lawmakers already included $150 million in savings to help the Patent and Trademark Office deal with its application backlog.

This is the second consecutive Census that came in under budget. The 2000 count returned $305 million to the government out of more than $7 billion spent for the entire Census.

The savings in 2010 comes after lawmakers and other experts routinely voiced concerns over the count because of faulty technology and the fact the cost for the Census doubled twice since 1970.

In the end, the official says the technology worked well after a few hiccups and the management oversight helped ensure the bureau made its milestones.

"We made a late design change to the field data automation so we had to redesign the operations control system," the official says. "We were bringing in door-to-door work and tracking it daily and the system got off to a rough start. It was working slowly, but it never crashed and it never failed to deliver."

The official says Census brought in government and industry experts, specifically from Oracle, to help "fine tune" the system.

Census officials also tracked response on a real-time basis using an online tool.

The official says when the bureau saw slow responses from certain areas it could go into action more quickly by alerting mayors, governors and community activists, and by doing more advertising.

"In those media markets that were performing behind the average of the country, we invested $32 million in paid advertising in those markets beyond what was budgeted and we saw improved performance in all markets," the official says. "We reduced the number of housing units in the lagging category from 17 million to 1.6 million mainly through our advertising spend."

The official added that the 2010 Census should be completed by mid-September with only an audit of how the bureau did overall being completed by 2012.

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