Locke: Commerce cashes in on principles

Wednesday - 8/11/2010, 9:08am EDT

Gary Locke, Commerce Secretary

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By Suzanne Kubota
Senior Internet Editor
FederalNewsRadio.com

By nearly all accounts, the 2010 Census looks to be a resounding success, getting the job done and spending an estimated $1.6 billion dollars less than expected.

Commerce Secretary Gary Locke told Federal News Radio the outcome could have been very different. "As I was getting ready for the confirmation process, I was told to expect a train wreck with the 2010 Census."

Locke said the hand-held computer (HHC) project, scrapped in 2008, was a "complete debacle. Did not work. We, in the previous administration, spent $3 billion dollars on that alone, and that's why the General (Accountability) Office and even the Department of Commerce's own inspector general said that the 2010 Census was one of the federal programs most likely to fail."

Now, 17 months after he was sworn in, the Secretary said he's "really proud of the incredible team we have both at the top management at the Department of Commerce" and at the Census Bureau for pulling it together.

Locke credits the principles he and his team brought to office for the success of the census.

"We have really focused on relentless attention to details, setting very ambitious goals, and then spending a lot of time creating precise measurements by which we can judge our performance every single day."

Locke did seem pleasantly surprised though at the effectiveness of one effort in particular. Targeted media campaigns, said Locke, "made a huge difference" in increasing responses. "Just a couple of weeks of very targeted media buys cost us only about $30 million dollars saved us hundreds of millions of dollars."

Still ahead for the 2010 Census is quality control and random audits, but so far the quality control, said Locke, has been "very, very impressive," even exceeding the 2000 count.

As the 2010 Census closes up shop and finishes work, Locke said even the final stages are going better, and faster, than anticipated. "So the final savings may actually go up above $1.6 billion dollars."

2020 Census

Looking ahead, Locke said "the 2020 census will feature a much more prominent role for the internet, especially in the ability of households to report or fill out their questionaire" over the internet.

The idea, said Locke, has a couple of things going for it. First of all, it's cheaper. "We paid 40 cents for every questionaire that was mailed back. That was the cost to the government. Free to the household, but we had to pay for it."

Secondly, it would be less labor intensive. Locke said Census would be looking at how technology can be used to automatically incorporate responses into the results tally, eliminating intermediate steps.

Manufacturing

Immediately on the agenda for Locke and Commerce is a need to focus on creating permanent jobs. "We've got to figure out how to jump start the economy, and one way is to focus on manufacturing because manufacturing jobs, in general, pay about 15 to 20 percent more than the typical wage in America."

Roughly, here's the plan as explained by the Secretary: currently, only one percent of American companies export, and of those, 58 percent export to only one country. Commerce would like to help them to export to just one more country and "significantly increase the manufacturing jobs in America".

Locke said the goal of the National Export Initiative (NEI) is to "double U.S. exports over the next five years, supporting some two million new jobs in the process."

That, and of course, all while eliminating waste, delivering better services for the American taxpayer at less cost and with greater efficiency.

And if anyone were to scoff at Commerce being able to pull all that off, just remember what happened to the program voted "most likely to fail."