A modern census this time?

During preparations for the last census, I worked with a handheld computer which was supposed to be the single tool that census takers would need.  The computer worked well in the gathering of address data, but shortly after we finished collecting addresses, the Census Bureau announced that the computer would not be used in the actual census.  Apparently, the software for collecting the personal information was not working properly, and there was not enough time to correct the problem.

This resulted in a last-minute, desperate revision of procedures, and a return to paper-and-pencil techniques that had been used in the past.  A big part of the problem with the development of the handheld computer had been budget difficulties resulting from Congress using continuing resolutions to fund government agencies over and over again.  A continuing resolution basically allots an agency the same amount of dollars as the year before. This resulted in the Census Bureau being forced to work with the same amount of money for several of the years leading up to the census, even as work loads were ramping up and problems were being identified with the computer.

We are only a few years away from the next census, and I have to wonder if the agency will have a computer that will work this time around.  With all of the partisan bickering going on in Congress, will the Census Bureau get the needed funding?  The costs of transporting tons of paper, of filing by hand all of the folders, were never accounted for in preparing for the census.  Performing the entire census electronically would have saved millions.  I hope that we are not going to make the same mistakes again by underfunding the Census Bureau.


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