Harris role in Census reduced

Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez announced yesterday that the 2010 census will return to using paper questionnaires for following up with nonresponding citizens; leaving a much smaller role for handheld computers that were under development by Harris Corp.

The decision effectively relegates the use of the Census Bureau's handheld computers to ensuring that persons are living at the addresses they listed, a much smaller task.

The bureau expects to spend an additional $2.2 billion to $3 billion to support the return to paper surveys. In total, Gutierrez said he expects the 2010 census to cost between $13.7 billion to $14.5 billion.

The money will go toward establishing fresh data control centers and training and hiring new employees, he said.

Testifying before the House Appropriations Committee, Gutierrez said the bureau was prepared for the change because the agency has extensive experience conducting paper surveys from past censuses.

"Our flexibility to respond to unforeseen difficulties is greater under the paper-based option because our ability to deploy people is greater than the ability to manufacture additional handhelds on short notice," Gutierrez said in his opening statement.

Originally, census enumerators would have used Harris-developed handhelds for both canvassing and nonresponse follow-ups as a part of the agency's Field Data Collection Automation program for the 2010 census. However, problems with shifting requirements ? and ballooning costs ? forced the bureau to re-evaluate its position on the contract.

The decision comes almost a month after Gutierrez and Census Director Steve Murdock told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee they were considering a move back to paper for nonresponse follow-ups.

The two officials revealed that they formed an independent panel of experts ? which included former House Speaker Dennis Hastert and two former census directors ? to weight the advantages and disadvantages of returning to paper.

Wade-Hahn Chan writes for Federal Computer Week, an 1105 Government Information Group publication.

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