WANTED: Tech Savvy census takers
New contract requires pushing technology to enumerators
- By Roseanne Gerin
- Jul 17, 2005
When the Census Bureau's enumerators go door to door to survey households for the 2010 census, they will be equipped with handheld computers instead of pencils and note pads.
The Census Bureau's multimillion-dollar Field Data Collection Automation contract, which will be awarded next year, will put technology into the hands of the population counters as well as build systems for moving and managing data among field, regional and national offices.
"It's interesting that this is the first time that some of this process will be automated," said Ayana Robinson, a federal analyst who focuses on the Census Bureau at Input Inc., a federal IT research firm in Reston, Va.
The bureau has narrowed the field of possible prime contractors bidding on the contract to five systems integrators: EDS Corp., General Dynamics Corp., Harris Corp., Northrop Grumman Corp. and Titan Corp., which is being acquired by L-3 Communications Inc.
However, General Dynamics is leading a team that includes EDS, and Titan has decided not to bid, company officials said. Other companies are still eligible to bid as prime contractors.
The Census Bureau estimates that the contract could be worth $650 million. Input estimates the cost to be $300 million. Overall, Census has a budget of $845 million, which includes internal spending.
During the decennial census, population and housing data will be collected from paper-form mailings, via the Internet, by phone and by enumerators sent into the field. The Field Data Collection Automation program will support the bureau's field staff in collecting census data. The systems will be tested during a dress rehearsal, set to begin in 2007 and extending into 2008.
Census will break the contract work into five interrelated categories: field systems integration and services management, data collection and administrative software applications, field office automation equipment, mobile computing equipment and automation support services.
The program's field infrastructure consists of 12 temporary regional census centers that will manage the field data collection for their regions, and more than 500 local census offices with management and clerical staff who oversee data collection. It also will include up to 4,000 field operations supervisors and about 40,000 crew leaders who manage the groups of census blocks within their local jurisdiction, and up to 500,000 enumerators comprising temporary workers who will conduct the bulk of the data collection work.
The prime contractor must develop, implement and manage the systems and provide support services for field data-collection operations. Roughly 40 contractors have expressed an interest in being either the prime or a subcontractor on the project, according to Input.
KNOW MORE THAN NUMBERS
One thing that will make the 2010 census different from previous efforts is that enumerators must be more tech-savvy than in the past, said Ray Bjorklund, chief knowledge officer at Federal Sources Inc., a McLean, Va., market research firm.
"Instead of burger flippers, they have to be more knowledge workers," he said.
The enumerators will knock on doors to collect data from those households that did not return their forms. The plan for 2010 is to have enumerators use Global Positioning System-enabled handhelds to improve their ability to find people and collect information.
The enumerators would enter data from the interviews into the handhelds, which will transmit the information to databases. The integrator will determine how that transmission happens, said Tom Pyke, chief information officer of the Commerce Department.
An example of the functionality that the Census Bureau expects the handhelds to support is the interview application. It would, at any point in the interview, let the enumerator add extensive notes to describe more thoroughly complex living situations not adequately covered by the specific questions, thereby reducing the need for follow-up interviews.
The program will interact with several external entities, including:
- The National Processing Center, which assembles and distributes kits with materials for field work
- Data capture centers, which will scan mailed-in census questionnaires and consolidate data collected in the field
- Data processing headquarters, which analyzes census data
- The Office of Personnel Management and the Social Security Administration.
The contract, being conducted as a full and open competition, will be awarded March 31, 2006, according to Input. It will be for six months and have six one-year options. The agency issued a request for proposals June 17, and responses are due by July 18.
Although Census has a budget, it has not yet been authorized to spend the money, said Preston Waite, associate director for the decennial census at the Census Bureau.
ALL FOR ONE
Teambuilding has begun in earnest since the bureau named the five most likely prime contractors. EDS has joined a team led by General Dynamics, said Roger Baker, vice president for federal civilian work at General Dynamics. Motorola Inc. is the other major subcontractor on the team, he said.
The contract also requires that 20 percent of its total value goes to small businesses, although money for hardware doesn't count toward this goal, Baker said.
Titan has decided not to bid on the contract, said Wil Williams, the company's spokesman. He did not give a reason, but said it probably has nothing to do with the purchase by L-3. In early June, L-3 signed a definitive agreement to buy Titan for about $2.7 billion.
Northrop Grumman declined to comment on its bid.
Kevin Clarke, an EDS spokesman, said that as a subcontractor, it had to defer all media inquiries to prime contractor General Dynamics.
Harris was unable to provide comments.
The Census Bureau's 2010 Decennial Response Integrated System is the only other contract for the next census. The award, estimated to be worth $500 million, is expected in October. The agency issued the RFPs in mid-February.
Under this contract, which is for one year with five one-year options, the winning vendor will provide a solution, along with staffing and facilities, to assist census takers to offer back-end systems to integrate the data from paper and handhelds, and create a record of the data and GPS mapping, Waite said. *
Staff Writer Roseanne Gerin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Government Computer News Staff Writer Mary Mosquera can be reached at email@example.com.