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U.S. Commerce Secretary Secretary Gary Locke Announces $1.6 Billion in 2010 Census Savings

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

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 U.S. Commerce Secretary Secretary Gary Locke Announces $1.6 Billion in 2010 Census Savings

Effective public outreach campaign and careful management save taxpayer dollars

U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke announced today that the Commerce Department’s U.S. Census Bureau is returning $1.6 billion in 2010 Census operational savings.

In the first full year of Census management by Obama administration officials and in a time of tightened federal resources, the Census came in 22 percent under budget. The savings occurred primarily because contingency funding set aside for disasters or major operational failures was not tapped and because the Census questionnaire mail-back response rate and workforce productivity across field operations both beat expectations.

In the years leading up to the 2010 Census, operations had been beset by a costly IT systems development. Upon taking office in 2009, Locke and Census Bureau Director Robert Groves heard warnings from Congress and Census watchdogs about the many high-risk operational challenges ahead and about the numerous systems failures in the years preceding the 2010 count. Importantly, response rates to surveys had been declining for years, and if that trend had held true for this decade’s census, it would have added hundreds of millions to the cost of the door-to-door follow-up effort.

“In early 2009, the 2010 Census was in need of top-notch operational and fiscal management,” Locke said. “The Census is a massive undertaking with great risk for operational problems and cost overruns. We appointed Dr. Groves to execute the 2010 Census with a directive to run a successful, non-partisan Census that counted everyone. Just as importantly, the President and I directed Dr. Groves to run a comprehensive review of the Census plan and find ways to cut costs and enumerate the population more efficiently. Over the last 17 months, we have worked tirelessly to ensure American tax dollars were being spent wisely.”

“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,” Locke added.

The savings represent 22 percent of 2010 Census costs this fiscal year.

Among the management interventions implemented by Locke and Groves that either helped improve mail-back response rates or avoid potentially catastrophic systems failures:

  • In 2009, the Administration created a media buy reserve that permitted tracking lagging responses in individual cities and intervention in these markets with additional advertising.  On March 30, response data was analyzed, identifying 23 media markets with 17.7 million households that seriously lagged in response.  After intervening with more advertising in these markets, low performers were reduced by April 20 to just 10 markets with 1.6 million households, thus helping the overall response rate and decreasing the likelihood of an undercount in these communities.
  • Daily meetings with the operations team were implemented to troubleshoot problems with the Field Operations Control System - a high-risk software system used to manage the work of nearly 600,000 census takers conducting multiple field operations - that GAO and Commerce Inspector General reports identified as a system likely to fail, which could have led to significant cost overruns and a possible delay in the release of 2010 Census data. The daily meetings spurred the operations team to develop and implement real-time solutions for a troubled system, ensuring that it functioned effectively so that field operations were completed on time and under budget.
  • Beginning in 2009, Secretary Locke implemented bi-weekly meetings with census management and key staff to review performance metrics and spending rates.

Where we saved:

Approximately $800 million in savings were realized in reserve resources set aside for natural disasters or operational breakdowns. (In the months before the 2010 Census, both Commerce’s own Inspector General and the GAO had outlined numerous census operations with a high potential for failure.) No significant natural events disrupted major census operations that took place earlier this year. And any operational challenges that posed a threat to census operations were dealt with quickly and effectively to prevent costly disruptions.

Another $650 million in savings were realized in the labor intensive, door-to-door, follow-up operation because 72 percent of households returned the questionnaire by mail – more than expected – meaning fewer homes had to be visited to obtain census answers. The 2010 Census effectively deployed several strategies to boost mail-back response rates, including a robust advertising campaign and an unprecedented effort to enlist private sector partners to help get the word out about the count. Additionally, both Locke and Groves made hundreds of free-media appearances and traveled the nation to encourage community organizations and faith based leaders to promote the Census.

Furthermore, the 565,000 census workers used in this operation were more productive than in the previous census, resulting in lower labor costs.

An additional $150 million in savings were realized because a number of other census operations, such as counting the population in Alaska and on tribal lands, came in at a lower cost.

“This is a significant accomplishment and I would like to thank the American public for responding to the census and the more than 255,000 private and public sector partners who joined with us in making the 2010 Census a success,” Groves said.

Census operations continue throughout the summer with a number of planned, rigorous quality assurance checks to ensure an accurate and complete count.

“My management team and I, along with a dedicated workforce, have worked diligently to ensure a successful census while being vigilant with taxpayer dollars,” Groves said. “We will remain focused until all 2010 Census operations are completed.”

The Census Bureau is required by law to report by the end of the year the nation’s population and apportionment of seats to each state in the U.S. House of Representatives.

This is the second high-risk initiative Locke has managed as Commerce Secretary and delivered better than expected results. By using effective public-private partnerships, targeted consumer education and an efficiently administered coupon program, he also helped ensure that 99 percent of American households were prepared for the transition to digital television in 2009. This initiative was one of many management challenges Locke inherited upon taking office and after the successful transition the department will be returning $500 million – or 25% of the total DTV coupon program budget - to the Treasury. 

Locke has a track record of rethinking how government should work so that it does more for less. While governor of Washington state, Locke initiated an innovative budget approach that helped the state eliminate a $2.6 billion deficit without raising taxes or dismantling core government services.

During his tenure, Washington twice received Governing Magazine’s top grade in its rankings of the best managed states in America (judged by independent organizations across the country), and was praised for its innovative use of technology to bring government closer to its citizens. Washington was named “the nation’s most digital state” and received consistent top rankings from the Center for Digital Government and the Progress and Freedom Foundation.