Progress of the 1990 Decennial Census: Some Causes for Concern

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1990-05-21.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

                   United States General Accounting OflIce     /L//     7c-l)


For Release        Progress of ,the 1990 Decennial           Census:
on Delivery        Some Causes for Concern
Expected at
1O:OO a.m.   EDT
May 21, 1990

                   Statement  of
                   L. Nye Stevens,  Director
                   Government Business Operations            Issues
                   General Government Division
                   Before the
                   Subcommittee  on Census and Population
                   Committee on Post Office  and Civil    Service
                   House of Representatives

                                                                        GAO Form 160 (13/W)
I.        ’


                                 PROGRESSOF THE 1990 DECENNIAL CENSUS:
                                       SOME CAUSES FOR CONCERN
                                            SUMMARYSTATEMENT OF
                                               L. NYE STEVENS
                                       DIRECTOR, GOVERNMENTBUSINESS
                                              OPERATIONS ISSUES
              At the request of the House Subcommittee on Census and
              Population,     GAO has been monitoring            the status    of important
              census activities      that will      significantly       affect   the quality of
              the census --follow-up      activities        and the local review program.
              As a result       of the lower-than-expected          mail response rate,           the
              management challenges         for completing       a high quality         follow-up
              effort    have been appreciably         heightened.       The Bureau may need to
              hire over 37,000 additional           employees,      and census costs are
              projected     to increase     by over $70 m illion        to address the
              unanticipated       follow-up    workload.      However, the Bureau's
              performance      on two key factors        that will     affect       the timely
              completion      of follow-up     operations --achieving          full    enumerator
              staffing    and meeting productivity           goals--are       causes for concern.
              Three of the Bureau's        regions--Atlanta,         San Francisco,         and
              Dallas --reported     that over 70 percent          of their     district      offices
              were understaffed       as of May 9, 1990.          For New York State about
              40 percent    of the Bureau's district          offices      reported      they were
              understaffed.       However, the Bureau's         staffing      statistics      may
              understate    the severity      of staffing     difficulties         because they do
              not distinguish      between full-       and part-time       employees.        For
              example, in district       offices     in the New York Region, part-time
              enumerators     ranged from less than 10 percent              to 60 percent         of the
              reported    work force.
              W h ile achieving     full    staffing     is important,     the single     most
              important    indicator      of follow-up      progress     is how many cases are
              actually    completed.        The Bureau's management information              system
              was designed to provide            current   cost and progress       information
              needed to monitor         census activities.        However, thus far this
              system has not been able to provide               complete data, and census
              managers have been impeded in their               monitoring    activities.
              In addition      to GAO's review of the progress         of follow-up
              operations,      GAO examined how the Bureau handled New York City's
              reports     of alleged   m issed housing units      as part of the local
              review program.        For the processes that GAO reviewed,           it found
              that the Bureau's       22 district    offices    in New York City generally
              followed     planned procedures     for handling     reports   of m issed
              housing units      and proposed that more than 80,000 housing units be
              added to the City's       census blocks.       Some of the proposed
              additions,      however, may have already       been on the Bureau's      address
              list    from other census operations         or in other census blocks.
Mr.      Chairman             and Members of the                   Subcommittee:

We welcome                 this     opportunity              to discuss              the    status      of      the      1990
decennial                 census,         with      a particular             emphasis          on New York.                   My
comments              today        focus         on two important                  census      operations.                   First,
I will             discuss         the     status       of the         Bureau's            nonresponse            follow-up
operation,                 which      seeks, to obtain                 questionnaires                 from      households
that         did     not      initially             respond      to the            census.        Second,           I will
discuss             the     preliminary              results       from        our work on the                  first         phase
of     the         local      review        program          in New York City.                    As you know,                  this
program             provides          local        governments              with      the     opportunity               to
improve             the     accuracy             and completeness                  of census          counts.

My comments                 on the         status       of     follow-up             operations         are      based          on
the     Census             Bureau's         management           information                reports       and
discussions                 with     Bureau          headquarters              and regional             officials.                    My
comments             on the         local         review       program         are based          on our preliminary
work at             the     Bureau's             22 district           offices         that      are    responsible                   for
New York             City         and discussions               with        City      planning         officials              and
Bureau             regional         officials.               Our local             review      work did          not         include
observations                  of    the     completeness               of    field         reviews      done by census




        The Bureau            had planned                  that        nonresponse                follow-up            would           be the
        census'        most          costly          and labor               intensive            field         activity.               Now that
        the     Bureau        has achieved                  only        a 63 percent                    questionnaire                  response
        rate,      rather            than      the     budgeted               70 percent                rate,      the      management
        challenges            to completing                  a high             quality           follow-up            effort           have
        been compounded                     markedly.              The Bureau               may need to hire                        over
        37,000      additional                 employees,               and census                costs         are    projected              to
        increase         by over              $70 million               to address                the      unanticipated                   follow-
        up workload.                  At this          point,               two key factors                  affecting              the     timely
        completion          of        follow-up             efforts,                enumerator             staffing              and
        productivity                 (the      number        of questionnaires                            enumerators               are
        completing),              are        a source             of    significant                concern.

        Many District                 Offices          Understaffed

        The Bureau            reported           on May 9,                   1990,      that       nationally               it      had about
        106 percent             of     its      needed            enumerator              staff          on board.                The
        Bureau's        staff          needs         are     based            on full-time                 positions.                  However,
        the     Bureau's          staffing             reports               reflect        the      number           of enumerators
        employed        and do not               account               for      part-time            employees              which          may
        represent          a sizable             segment               of     the      enumerator               work     force.             For
        example,        the       New York             Region           Area Managers                    we spoke           with
        estimated          that        part-time             enumerators                  in      the      district              offices         they

        oversee            ranged      from        less       than     10 percent               to about         60 percent          of
        total       staffing.

       The Bureau's                 staff        shortages            become apparent                when viewed              from    the
       perspective              of     the       district          offices,             where      the    nonresponse           work
       actually            takes       place.            For example,              figure          1 shows the             percentage
       of district              offices            in,each         region         that      reported          they    did      not
       have       the      necessary             number of enumerators.                            Twenty        percent       of the
       district            offices          in    9 of       the     Bureau's            13 regions          were
       understaffed.                  About         40      percent      of       the     offices         that      were
      understaffed                 had less           than      80 percent               of their         needed
      enumerators.                   In addition,               since       the     Bureau's             staffing       statistics
      do not         account          for        part-time           employment,             its     data        overstates          the
      actual         staffing           situation.
Flgun 1: Extant Dhtrkt Offlcm  Offl#r Hrvc, Not Mat
                                                Mot Enumwator
                                                    t%Um.mW Staff Nods
100 tbauqpotdlatM~ndf’ dlyr(dlrd


 RoQbMl colly     conlus

                                                                                 follow-upstdtingreportMay 9,1990.
Three       of        the        Bureau's        regions--Atlanta,                    Dallas,          and San
Francisco--reported                          that      over       70 percent             of their        district
offices          were understaffed.                            According          to the        Bureau,         limited
applicant              pools         and,      in the          case of       the      Dallas         Region,         high
employee          turnover              rates         are major           factors         contributing               to the
low staffing                 levels.

Unfortunately,                      in many cases,               the      district          offices'           applicant
pools       may not              be sufficient                 to overcome            their        enumerator
shortages.                  Nationally,               the    Bureau        has met 61 percent                    of       its
1990 recruiting                      goal.          The Bureau's             lack        of recruiting               success           is
even greater                 in those           offices           that     are       experiencing              the most
significant                 staff       shortages           --those        at     less      than       80 percent               of
their       needed           staff          levels.            These offices              have achieved               about          57
percent          of     their         recruiting               goals.        In other           words,         the    Bureau
must       recruit           additional               applicants           in precisely                those     areas           where
it    already           has experienced                     relatively            greater          recruiting

Let     me now turn                  to the         staffing          situation           in the        State        of     New
York,       which           is      of particular               interest          to the        Subcommittee                today.
Figures          2 and 3 show enumerator                              staffing           in all        of New York               and
the     Bureau's             New York           Region,          which       covers         only       New York City
and surrounding                      counties.              Statewide,            about       60.5      percent           of the
district          offices             reported          they       were fully             staffed        or better.                  On

         the   other     hand,       as figure           3 shows,         half        of    the district             offices
         in the      Bureau's        New York           Region        reported         they     were below            their
         needed      enumerator          staff      levels.            About         21.4     percent      of the        New
         York Region's            offices        reported         they      have less           than      80 percent           of
         the   needed         number     of enumerators.'                 The Middletown                and
        Lindenhurst            offices      reported          that       they        had less      than       half      the
        number       of enumerators              they     need.

Flgum 2: En~mcrtor   Stdfhg    In Now
York Stat8
                                                                                                 Percent of Offiies with Between 50   and

                                                                                                  Percent of Offices with Full Enumerator
                                                                                                  Staffing or Better

                                                                                                  Percerll of Offlo@ with Between 80 and
                                                                                                  99 Percent Needed Enumerator Staff
                                            New York Stats has 38 distrbt offices.

                                            Source: Census Sureau nonresponsefollow-up staffing report, May 0,199O.

.           .

                Flguro 3: Enumorrtor Staffing In the
                Now York Roglonal Cormus Cmtor

                                                                                                                            Percent of 0ffiis with Full Enumerator
                                                                                                                            Staffing or Better

                                                                                                                            Percent of Offices with Between 80 and
                                                                                                                            99 Percent Needed Enumerator Staff
                                                                       The New Yotk regbnal csnsus center has 28 districtoffii.
                                                                       !3ouroe: Cenws Sumau nonresponse folbw-up staffing report, May 9,199o.

                        Enumerator           staffing                in New York             provides           an excellent             example     of
                        how a large               part-time              work      force       can mask potentially                      serious
                        staff         shortages.                For example,                the    South        Brooklyn          district       office
                        reported          that          it     had hired           106 percent             of the        number of
                        enumerators               it         needed.          However,         according           to the         Area Manager
                        who monitors                   work     in     that      district          office,         about          15 to 20 percent

                        of      the    office's               enumerators            work      part-time.              The office            therefore

                        may      be facing              a staff          shortage           rather       than      a surplus.
The situation               in the West Manhattan                                district          office       is more
severe.            The office             reports             that        it     has only          52 percent           of the
necessary            enumerator            work         force.                 However,         the Area Manager                   who
oversees           work     in    that         office          estimates                that     about       half      of the
enumerator            employees            are working                    part-time.               As a result,               the
office       seems to be facing                         a more significant                         staff      shortage             than
the      Bureau       staffing           reports              indicate.

Bureau       officials            in     the      New York                Region         said      that      a variety             of
factors        have hampered                   their       ability               to meet staff               needs,
including           applicants'                unwillingness                     to have contact                with     a
resistant           public.             They said              that            the     region      is continuing                its
recruiting            efforts           and,      in some cases,                        moving      enumerators               from
other       locations            into      areas         that         are        experiencing               severe      staff

Complete Data on Nonresponse                                   Costs
and Progress Not Available

While      hiring         a sufficient                  number of qualified                         employees           for        the
job      clearly       is     important,                the      single              most      important        indicator               of
nonresponse            progress            is how much of                        the     work      load      is being
completed.             The Bureau's                automated                    management          information               system
(MIS) I a new development                          for         the        1990 census,              is      intended          to
provide        the     Bureau           with      current             cost           and progress            information                so
it    can monitor             critical            census             activities,                including           census
costl3,      on a daily            or weekly              basis.
However,           thus       far      during          nonresponse                 follow-up,            the     Bureau's             MIS

has not           been able            to provide              complete             cost      and progress
information.                  As a result,                census            managers          at headquarters                       and
in the       field        have         not      had all            the      data     they        need to monitor                     the
status       of nonresponse                     follow-up             field         activities.                Bureau
officials            in New York                said      that        the      absence           of timely            information
on the       status           of     field.activities                       was hampering                their        ability             to
manage the              census.

A number           of    factors           appear         to be causing                    problems         with        the MIS.
For example,              not        all     district              offices          have      reported.               About          20
percent       of        the    district           offices            had not           transmitted               any cost             and
progress          data        to Bureau           headquarters                     as of May 9,             the       point          at
which       the     Bureau           had planned               to complete                 one-third           of     its
nonresponse              follow-up              work      in urban             offices.             The Bureau                expects
the     number of             reporting           offices             to      increase           as initial            backlogs
in keying            in personnel                appointment                  documents           and payroll                 records
diminish.               However,           even full               reporting           will       not     address             all     of
the     problems          with         the      MIS.          For example,                 the    Bureau's            software
has experienced                    problems            with        formatting           data       already            in the
system.           Bureau            officials           are working                 to address            these        problems.

Accurate          and complete                  cost     and progress                  information               is    important
in     identifying             areas         experiencing                   problems          completing              field          work
on schedule.                  In a recent               report            we discussed             the      central            role
that     expeditious                 completion               of    field       work has in ensuring                           a high

quality         census.1               In 1980,      delays              in completing              fieldwork,
combined         with         the      need to      limit         census        costs,         caused         the     Bureau
to alter         follow-up              procedures.               These changes               may have adversely
affected         the     quality          of     the census'               nonpopulation              data.

As the       Subcommittee                is well          aware,         the     lower-than-expected                       mail
response         rate         has left,'the          Bureau            with     a severe          funding
shortfall.              In addition             to the        funds           needed     to address                the     low
mail      response            rate,      we understand                 that     the     Bureau's            request         for
supplemental             appropriations                   includes            $60 million            for     an
anticipated             reduction            in productivity.                     A fully         operational               MIS
is critical             for      the     Bureau      to closely                monitor        the     progress             of     the
census,         especially             in key areas               having        significant                cost     and
schedule         implications,                 such as enumerator                     productivity.


Now I would             like        to discuss            another          important        census           activity,
the     local     review            program,       which          provides         local       governments                 with
the     opportunity              to    improve       the      accuracy           and completeness                    of     the
decennial         census.              To carry       out         this        program,      the       Bureau         provides
local      officials            with      housing          unit        counts      at    the     census            block
level      and asks            them to         identify           or     "challenge"           blocks             where     the
Bureau's         housing            counts      may be incorrect.                       The Bureau                does field

l 1390 Census: Enhanced                         Oversight   Should                 Strengthen               Recruitment
Program (GAO/GGD-90-65,                         Apr. 1990.)
reviews         of     those          census         blocks        where          loc'al        officials           report            the
most      significant                 errors         and adds any missed                         housing          units         to      its
address         list         or,      in some cases,                  moves housing                   units       to their
correct         census             blocks.

For the         1990 census,                   the     local       review          program            has two phases:
one before             Census          Day.and             one after.              For the            first       phase,
precensus            local           review,         housing          unit        counts         were scheduled                   to be
sent      to    local         governments                  by November             3, 1989.               Local
governments              were given                until         January          5, 1990,            to submit              block
challenges             to the          Bureau.

As part         of our             ongoing         examination               of    the       precensus            local         review
program,          we reviewed                how the             Bureau       handled            New York          City's
challenges             for      blocks          with        alleged          missed          housing           units.           For the
processes            that       we reviewed,                 we found             that       the      Bureau's           district
offices         generally              followed             planned          precensus              local       review
procedures             and,         in so doing,                 proposed          that         thousands          of housing
units      be added             to     the      Bureau's           address           list.            While       the        scope       of
our work does not                      permit          us to say how many total                                housing          units
should         have been added as a result                                   of the          City's           challenges,              our
review         identified              two problem                areas       that         I will         discuss            later.

Overall,         the         City      claimed             the    Bureau          had missed              a net         of    94,000
housing         units.              This     net       consisted             of blocks             with        an alleged
175,000         missed         housing           units           and blocks              with      alleged         overcounts


        of      81,000       housing            units.             The Bureau's               district         offices           focused
        their       field          work        in     those        blocks          containing            alleged        missed
        housing          units.           As a result                of field           work,       district            offices
        proposed            that     about           80,000         housing          units       be added to challenged
        blocks.           More        than          half      of    these      proposed            additions            occurred              in
        Manhattan.                 In addition,                district             offices        proposed            adding         about
        2,500       housing          units           to other           census         blocks.

        However,          all       of    the        proposed           additions             may not        necessarily
        represent            actual        additions                to the          Bureau's        address            list,       and as a
        result,          we could          not         determine             the     actual        additions            resulting
        from       the    precensus                 local      review         program.             Some of            these      proposed
        additions            may have been on the                            Bureau's          address         list        from       other
        census       operations                 or     in other            census       blocks.            For example,                in one
        district          office          at        least      10 percent              of the       proposed            precensus
        local       review          additions               were already               on the       Bureau's            address             list.

        Several          reasons          may account                for      the     difference             between            the
        proposed          additions                 and the         City's          reports        of missed            housing
        units.           For example,                  the     City's         records          may have been                   inaccurate;
        enumerators                may have missed                   housing          units;        and some of these
        housing          units       may already                   be included            in the          Bureau's             address
        list       in other          census            blocks.

        In addition                to reviewing                reports         of missed            housing            units,         the
        Bureau's          New York              Region         reviewed             a portion            of the        census         blocks

where       the        City         claimed          the       Bureau           had overcounted                   housing          units.
This       analysis               was done for                 blocks           containing            differences                of       500
or more housing                         units.          This         operation            succeeded             in moving              about
7,000       housing               units          to correct              census         blocks        and deleting                 an
additional                  7,000        housing           units         from      the     Bureau's             address           list.

Although            the          program          resulted            in corrections                  to the           Bureau's
address           list,           as I mentioned                   earlier,             we did        identify            two problem
areas.            First,            New York            City       did      not        challenge          all      of     the      blocks
for      which         it        had identified                 errors            in housing             unit      counts.                The
City      claimed                that      the      Bureau's             counts         were      incorrect             in about                46
percent           of        the     City's          blocks.              However,          the     City         limited          its
challenges                  to    the      5.5      percent           of    the     City's         blocks          that         contained
differences                  of at         least        50 housing               units.           This         was well          above
the minimum                  threshold              that       the     Bureau           used as its               criteria             for
doing       field            work --any             block       with        at     least       five       missed          housing

According              to city            officials,               the      City        limited          its      challenges                 to
blocks       containing                   errors           of at         least         50 housing              units      for      several
reasons.               First,            the     City       received             the      Bureau's             housing          unit
counts       on November                     14,     1989--about                 2 weeks late.                    (However,               the
Bureau       accepted                   challenges             3 weeks beyond                  the       January          5, 1990,
deadline.)                       Second,         given         the magnitude                 of    the         differences                and
the      City's             limited          time       and staff               resources,            the       City      focused             on
those       areas            that        contained             the most            significant                 differences.

New York City,                    as well           as 39,000             other         local       governments,               will
have      the     opportunity                    to challenge              housing           unit      counts       in the
second      phase            of     the      local        review        program            scheduled            to begin          in
August      1990.                 The City            is preparing                for     the       postcensus          local
review,         according                to city          officials.

A second          problem            area         involved          a limited              number of district
office      procedural                   oversights             that       we identified                as a result               of
our work.               If    not        corrected,             these       errors           would      have      resulted             in
missed      housing               units.           First,         in five          district            offices         field          work
was not         done in             38 census             blocks.           After         we told         Bureau        officials
about      this         oversight,                field        work was done in                     28 of those           blocks.
As a result,                 more than             2,500        additional               housing        units      were
proposed          to be added.                     Field        work was not                 done in the           other          10
blocks      because               district            office        officials             believed         it     was too             late
to do so.               Second,            in     12 district              offices           the     paperwork          required
to propose          adding               more than             2,200       housing          units       was not         prepared.
In most         instances,                 district            officials           could         not    explain         why this
occurred          but        said        they      would        prepare           the     necessary             paperwork             to
add these          units            to     the     Bureau's            address           list.

That     concludes                my prepared               statement,             Mr. Chairman.                  My
colleagues          and I would                    be pleased              to     respond           to questions.