oversight

1990 Census: Status of Questionnaire Follow-Up Efforts

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1990-07-02.

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

                  United !States General Accounting Office     /LJ/7U               ‘I, -
                  Testimony


                                                    lllllllllllllllI
                                                         141717

For Release        1990 Census:     Status    of Questionnaire
on Delivery        Follow-Up  Efforts
Expected at
9:30 a.m. CDT
Monday
July 2, 1990




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




GAO/T-GGD-90-52
                                                                      GAO Form 160 (12/87)
. \




               1990 CENSUS: STATUS OF QUESTIONNAIRE FOLLO~,~UP'EFFORTS
                                                       .8.      >.
                               SUMMARYOF STATEMENT OF < ;/
                                   L. NYE STEVENS
                            DIRECTOR, GOVERBMEBTBUSINESS
                                  OPERATIQNS ISSUES
      GAO's May 21 testimony           before    the Subcommittee   focused on two
      major sources        of concern for the successful         completion      of census
      follow-up     efforts:       (1) incomplete     cost and progress       reporting
      was hampering        the Census Bureau's       efforts  to monitor      and manage
      the census and (2) the Bureau did not have sufficient                    field
      staff.      Follow-up    efforts     appeared to be lagging      significantly       in
      many of the Bureau's          447 district     offices  and census progress
      could be seriously         impaired     if the Bureau did not take aggressive
      action    to correct     these deficiencies.
      Today,   GAO reports     that since the May hearing      the Bureau has made
      major   improvements     that appear to have put the census generally
      back on schedule.        First,  the Bureau successfully       addressed
      problems    in its management information       system:     district    offices
      are reporting     key progress     data, and the software      problems GAO
      found generally      have been resolved.
      The Bureau also has taken action       to address its staff       shortages.
      For example,    the Bureau increased     pay rates for enumerators         and
      other field    staff  in about 31 percent    of its offices      and
      expanded its incentive      pay program nationwide.        In addition,     the
      Bureau has taken other actions,       such as a second mailing          to over
      350,000 households      in New York, to further     assist   with the
      completion   of follow-up    efforts.
      In anticipation        that many offices      would not complete         the follow-
      up efforts      on schedule,      the Bureau's     planning    assumptions
      contained     about a 3-week period         between the scheduled          end of the
      activity,     June 6, and the beginning           of subsequent      operations.
      Most of the Bureau's         district   offices     completed     follow-up      efforts
      within    this 3-week grace period.            Overali,     about 90 percent        of
      the Bureau's      offices    are projected      to have completed        follow-up
      efforts     by the end of June or the first             few days of July.
      Despite    the progress         the Bureau has made since the Subcommittee's
      hearing    in May, major challenges              still    remain before    the census
      will    be completed.        Follow-up       work in about 10 percent         of the
      offices    will    continue       beyond the 3-week extension.           The Bureau's
      New York and San Francisco               regions     do not expect to complete
      follow-up     efforts     until     July 15 and July 7, respectively.              The
      timely    completion      of follow-up         is important     to allow the
      Bureau's     Post Enumeration           Survey, which is critical        for the
      question     of adjusting         census counts,       to be completed    on time.
      The Burwu also needs time to review the extent                       to which its
      address list       is complete        to ensure an accurate        enumeration     of the
      Nation's     population.
Mr. Chairman           and Members of              the      Subcommittee:


We are      pleased         to be here          today       to discuss             the    status           of     the       1990
decennial          census,       particularly            the Census Bureau's                       nonresponse
follow-up          operation,         which      seeks        to obtain            completed
questionnaires             from      households          that        did    not     initially              respond               to
the   census.          My comments            are based           on our ongoing                 effort,              as
requested          by the       Subcommittee,            to monitor            census           operations                 at
Bureau      headquarters             and in the          field.


Our last       testimony          before        this     Subcommittee               was in New York on
May 21,       about       mid-way      through          the nonresponse                  follow-up
0peration.l            We identified             two major            sources          of concern               for        the
successful          completion         of nonresponse                 follow-up:                the      status            of
the   Bureau's         management          information               system        (MIS) and enumerator
staffing.           We reported          that     MIS problems                including            incomplete
reporting          were hampering             the Bureau's             efforts           to monitor              and
manage the          census.          In addition,             we found         that       at     least          20
percent       of    the    offices      were understaffed                     in    9 of the             Bureau's                13
regions.           In the     Dallas       region,        which        covers          Texas,         Louisiana
and Mississippi,              about     74 percent              of    the     region's           district
offices       were understaffed                 early     in nonresponse                  follow-up.
Moreover,          we reported         that      the Bureau's               staffing            statistics                 did
not   differentiate              between        part-time            and full-time               staff          and


l-progress of the             1990 Decennial  Census:                         Some Causes                for     Concern
 (GAO/T-GGD-90-44,             May 21, 1990).
                                                          1
therefore         masked the               full      extent          of    the     Bureau's          staffing
problems         in certain              locales,         including              New York.            Nonresponse
efforts        appeared               to be lagging             significantly             in many offices                      and
the progress               of    the     census       may have been seriously                           impaired          if
the     Bureau       did        not     take      aggressive              action      to correct             these
deficiencies.


ACTIONS TAKEN TO IMPROVE NONRESPONSEFOLLOW-UP


Mr. Chairman,               I am pleased              to report             today      that       since         the May
hearing        the     Bureau           has made a number of major                             improvements             that
appear        to have generally                    put    the        census        back on schedule.                    First,
the     Bureau       has successfully                    addressed            problems          in    its     management
information            system           and district             offices           are reporting              key
progress         data.


Census managers                  in headquarters                 and in the            field         now are         using
MIS reports            to monitor              and manage the                 census,          especially            where       it
takes      place--in             the     field.          For example,                on the      basis         of MI@ data
and other         information,                 the    Bureau          moved a total              of     33 managers
from headquarters,                      and in some cases                   other      regions,             into     selected
New York         and San Francisco                    district             offices      to provide                 technical
guidance        and support               to speed the                completion          of     follow-up             efforts
in    these      regions          where        problems          were particularly                    acute.
According         to the          Bureau,         these       managers             are reviewing              cost      and
progress         reports          for     their       assigned             offices      to identify                 problem

                                                                 2
.




areas      and the          necessary        corrective                actions      to resolve              the
problems      quickly.


Changes      to the          Census        Pay Program


The Bureau          also      has taken           action        to address           its     staff         shortages.
For example,           the      Bureau       modified            its     pay program.              We noted
earlier      this      year      that       the    Bureau's             decision      to     implement
geographic          wage rates             was an important                   achievement;            we also
observed,       however,            that     the      original           geographic          pay rates             may not
have been competitive                      and could        need to be raised                     during          the
censuso2      On June           3, the       Bureau        increased             pay in      140,      or about            31
percent,      of      its     district         offices          to accelerate               the      completion            of
nonresponse           follow-up            and meet the                Post    Enumeration            Survey            (PES)3
schedule      by attracting                 new employees                and motivating               the     existing
workforce       to continue                working.


About      56 percent          of    the     offices        that         received          a pay increase                are
located      either          in California             or New York.                 None of          the     offices

2The Decennial   Census:    Potential     Risks to Data Quality      Resulting
From Budqet Reductions     and Cost Increases        (GAO/T-GGD-90-30,    Mar.
27, 1990);  1990   Census:   Costs    Are  Uncertain    Because  Wage  Rates
May Be Uncompetitive     (GAO/GGD-90-78, May 1990).
3The PES is a matching       study in which the Bureau interviews       a
sample of households      independent     of the census.   The persons
enumerated    in the PES are matched to census records        to determine
whether each person was correctly          counted or missed in the
actual   census.    See Critical     Issues for Census Adjustment:
Completing    Post Enumeration     Survey on Time Wh-1 P t t‘ g
           (GAO/T-GGD-90-15,     Jan. 30, 1990), forlaedi~~u~~i~~      oyatthae

                                                            3
that      received           the pay increase                           are     in     Texas,         because         of     the
progress           made in that               state              in completing                nonresponse              follow-up.
In those           areas       where      pay was increased,                                pay rates          for
enumerators            and other              field              staff         were raised             by between                $.50       and
$2.00       per     hour.        Enumerators                      in New York City,                     where         the        Bureau
is offering            its      highest           enumerator                    wages,        now receive              a base pay
of      $10.00      per      hour.        Regional                 management                staff      in New York                and
San Francisco,                 the    two regions                       with     the        lowest      nonresponse
follow-up           completion            rates,             believe             the        increased          pay levels
attracted           additional            staff             and are             assisting             them in completing
follow-up           efforts.


The Bureau            also      expanded              its         supplemental                pay program              for        field
staff       in district              offices           nationwide.                      For example,                 under        the
revised          program,        in addition                      to the         hourly         wage,         enumerators                 will
be eligible            to receive              $1.50              for        each census              case they            complete.
The Bureau           believes           the       revised                supplemental                 pay is         necessary              to
help      retain       and motivate                   its        most productive                     employees             to work
the     additional             weeks until                  nonresponse                 follow-up             is completed.


Local      Actions           to Complete               Work


In addition            to the         changes               to     its         pay program,             the     Bureau’s
regional           and district            off ices                also         have        acted      to overcome
intractable            staff         shortages.                    For example,                 the     Bureau         has moved
field      staff       from      neighboring                      offices            into     offices          that        are

                                                                         4
unable         to attract              sufficient               staff          from     within        their      own areas.
In Texas,            about           60 to       70 field          staff          from     the Arlington                 and
Northeast           Dallas            district           offices             assisted       with        completing             the
enumeration              in the          Central          Dallas             office.        Likewise,            staff         from
other        district           offices           assisted              with      the    enumeration             in the
Austin         and Denton              district           offices--two                  other       areas       where
attracting              staff         to work full               time          was very          difficult.


Another         initiative               to complete               work expeditiously,                         which
according            to the           Bureau        was particularly                     effective,             was
implemented              in Austin               as well         as other              places.          The Bureau             used
between         175 and 200 of                    its     most productive                   enumerators                in    the
Austin        area       to complete               about         2,000          cases      in a single            day in a
community           that        had proven               hard      to enumerate.                    A regional
official          said         the     intensive            effort,             with     the      active        involvement
of     the    local        member of Congress,                              was very       successful            to
increasing              the willingness                   of enumerators                   to work            in the        area
and,       more important,                   to encouraging                     residents           to answer            the
census.


Follow-Up           Mailing            in New York


The Bureau              also     remailed               a census             questionnaire              to all        households
in     15 of      the      New York              region's          28 district              offices            from     which        it
had not         been able              to obtain            a completed                 census        form.       These
offices         were selected                    because         they          had at      least        20 percent             of

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their        nonresponse           workload           outstanding             as of June 21,                 and many of
their        uncompleted           cases       were      in multi-unit                buildings             where      the
Bureau        has had difficulty                     obtaining         access         to gather             census
information.                The Bureau          mailed         over         350,000        new questionnaires
to New York households                        over      the    period         June 25 to             27.


Follow-up         mailings          have proven               to be a cost-effective                         means of
increasing           response         rates          in other       surveys.               We recommended                 in
1982 that         the       Department           of Commerce test                   the     feasibility              of
using        follow-up        mailings           to reduce            the     need for           personal           follow-
up visits         during        the     1990 census.4                  However,            the    second       mailing
in New York            is    the    first        time      the     Bureau       has attempted                 such a
mailing        during        a decennial              census       activity,              according          to Bureau
officials.             We believe             that     by evaluating                the effectiveness                     of
follow-up         mailings          during           the test       cycle       preceding             the     1990
census,        the     Bureau       would       have been better                    prepared          for     a follow-
up mailing           in New York.


According         to the       Associate              Director         for     Decennial             Programs,            the
second       mailing         provides          an important             test        for     future          census
efforts.          We agree          and urge           the    Bureau          to design           an evaluation
strategy         to ensure          that       the      results        of     the     follow-up            mailing         in
New     York     can be used            for     future        decision-making.



4A $4 Billion   Census in 19901 Timely Decisions    on Alternatives
to 1980 8rocedures    Can Save Millions (GAO/GGD-82-13, Feb. 22,
1982).
                                                               6
  MOST OFFICES HAVE COMPLETED NONRESPONSEFOLLOW-UP
  WITHIN THREE WEEKS OF SCHEDULE


  Nationally,              of     the        Bureau's         447 district                 offices          that        had
  nonresponse              follow-up               work,      most did              not    complete          the        field
  activity          by the            scheduled            June 6 deadline.                       In anticipation                    that
  many offices              would            not    complete            the     operation            on schedule,                  the
  Bureau's          planning                assumptions            contained              about      a 3-week             period
  between          the     scheduled               end of nonresponse                      follow-up             and the
  beginning          of     PES interviewing                       and field              follow-up,             which          includes
  a Bureau          check         of housing               units        identified            as vacant              or
  nonexistent              during            nonresponse            follow-up.                Nonresponse                 follow-up
  progress          thus        far      demonstrates               that       the        additional             time       was
  needed.           For example,                   only     six     district              offices,          or     1.3      percent,
  finished          on or before                   the     scheduled           completion              date.


  However,          since         June        6, the        Bureau           reports         that      follow-up                efforts
  have progressed                     significantly.                    For example,                while        none of Texas'
I 31 district             offices             reported            completing              nonresponse              follow-up              on
  schedule,          the        Tyler         and San Angelo                  offices         reported             finishing
  work    on June 8 --2                  days after               the       scheduled         completion              date--and
  all    Texas       offices             reported           completing               nonresponse             follow-up              by
  June       28.     Nat ionally,                  as of June 28,                the most            recent          data
  available          at the            time        we developed               our      statement,            about          62
  percent,          or     275,        of     the    447 offices               had completed                 nonresponse
  follow-up.              An additional                    134 offices               were     in the         final          stages          of

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the     field        activity             and the         Bureau          expected          that       they           would         be
completed            within          a week.             Overall,           therefore,             about         91 percent                  of
the     Bureau's          district            offices           should         complete            nonresponse                     follow-
up by the            end of          June or the             first          few days of July.                              This     would
place       the      Bureau          well     ahead of           its        1980 progress               at       this             point,
when about            56 percent              of    the Bureau's                 offices           had completed
follow-up            within          4 weeks of the                  scheduled           completion                   date.


REMAINING CHALLENGES


Despite         the      progress            the    Bureau           has made since                  the      Subcommittee's
hearing         in May,             a number of major                     challenges           still          remain               before
the     census        will          be completed.                First,         nonresponse                 follow-up                 is
still       incomplete               in     some key urban                  areas      even though                    it     is now
over     the      three            weeks since            the    scheduled             end-date             of        the
activity.             In our April                 report        on census             recruiting,                    we noted
that     completing                 fieldwork            expeditiously                is a key             ingredient                 to
ensuring          a high-quality                   census.               Efficient          fieldwork                 provides             the
Bureau       'lith       time        to review            census          counts       and resolve                    apparent
discrepancies.                      As of June            28, however,                the     New York                region
reported          that        it     had completed               83 percent              of    its      nonresponse
follow-up            workload;              and San Francisco                    reported            that        it         had
completed            87 percent              of    its     workload.                 According          to Bureau
officials            in New York              and San Francisco,                       the     regions                hope to
complete          nonresponse                follow-up          by July              15 and July              7,
respectiively.

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In addition                to district               offices         in these               two regions,             some
district           offices           in other            regions          also       are experiencing
difficulties                 finishing           nonresponse                   follow-up.             For example,                 as of
June 28,           the       two district                offices           in Boston              reported          that      they
completed            a combined              total        of about               88 percent           of the         city's
nonresponse                workload.             The Washington,                     D.C.,         district          offices
also       reported           that       they        completed            about        88 percent              of    their
combined           workload.


The timely                completion            of nonresponse                    follow-up           is      important            to
allow       the      PES to be completed                         as planned                 and within          schedule.
PES interviewing,                    whereby             enumerators                visit         households           to collect
PES data,           was scheduled                    to begin            in all        district            office          areas        on
June 25.             It     actually          began         in some areas                    during        the week of               June
18 and will                start      in     the      remaining             areas           as offices          complete
nonresponse                follow-up          efforts.


The Bureau            will         mot be able             to confidently                     estimate          when it            will
actually           complete           PES interviewing                      until           the    second       week of
July.            The interviewing                  phase        of       the      PES originally                was
scheduled            to last         until         July        27, with             an additional               week to
complete           field       quality           control           efforts.


The Bureau                is under         an extremely                  tight       time         frame       to meet         the
July       15,     1991,       deadline            for     the       Secretary               of Commerce to decide

                                                                     9
i.   whether        to adjust              census       counts.               At this            point,           the       Bureau          does
     not     expect         the        delays       in completing               nonresponse                     follow-up             to
     significantly                     impede     subsequent            census          operations,                     particularly
     the     PES.          We have no basis                   at this          time        for      confirming                  or
     questioning              the        Bureau's       belief.             We note,              however,               that        the         2-
     week delay             in completing               nonresponse                 follow-up                 during         the      1988
     dress       rehearsal               contributed           to the          delay        in completing                       the        PES.


     Finally,         we should              note      that      the     Bureau's                reported             census
     completion             figures          to-date          are based             on the          housing              units        in         its
     address        list.              Completing            fieldwork          expeditiously                      provides                the
     Bureau       with        additional            time       to review              the extent                  to which            its
     address        list          is     indeed     complete            before          census            population                 counts
     are     delivered             to     the     President        on December                    31,         1990.          This          is
     particularly                 important         in light            of events                that         indicate
     potential           problems            with      the     Bureau's             address             list.            Some of these
     problems         include             the many households                       that         reported             not       receiving
     a census         questionnaire--                  and an indeterminate                             number           that        did        not
     receive        a questionnaire                    but     failed          to    report             it,       the       lack      of
     certainty             that        changing        i.;structions                to field              staff          on how to
     handle       reports              of nonreceipt             of questionnaires                            or receipt              of
     duplicate           questionnaires                 enabled          accurate                corrections                 to the
     address        list,          and a higher-than-budgeted                               number of                 additional
     housing        units          identified           during          the     final            Postal           Service            address
     check.



                                                                       10
                                           we                        mm                      em                    --




In closing,              M r. C h a i r m a n ,           while           nonresponse                follow-up            has been
delayed           a n d virtually                n o o ffices              finished               o n schedule,              most of
th e district               o ffices            n o w either              h a v e finished                 or e x p e c t        to
finish           shortly.            A t this           p o i n t,        th e B u r e a u d o e s n o t a n ticipate
th a t    th e     delays          will         significantly                    i m p e d e th e progress                   o f th e
census,           p a r ticularly               th e    P E S , which begins                       as o ffices              finish
nonresponse              work.            H o w e v e r , while                th e      B u r e a u 's      progress            since   th e
S u b c o m m i tte e 's          New York hearing                        is c o m m e n d a b l e , th e B u r e a u n e e d s
to c o n tin u e           its     e fforts            to e n s u r e          th a t      its     remaining            o ffices
c o m p l e te     follow-up              e fforts          as expeditiously                         as possible                 in order
to m e e t tig h t               census a n d P E S tim e tables.


This      conc:lu d e s           m y prepared               statement,                 M r. C h a i r m a n .          My
colleagues             and I would be pleased                                  to       respond           to q u e s tio n s .




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