oversight

Status of 1990 Census Follow-Up and Evaluation Efforts

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1990-07-23.

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

                         United States General Accounting Office     Pfpvf
‘ G.0               ,,   Testimony


                                                                        141847


  For Release            Status of 1990 Census       Follow-Up
  on Delivery            and Evaluation Efforts
  Expected at
  9:30 a.m. EDT
  Monday,
  July 23, 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




             J




  GAO/T-GGD-90-58                                                            GAO Form IS0 (12/87)
        STATUS OF 1990 CENSUS FOLLOW-UP AND EVALUATION EFFORTS
                            SUMMARYOF STATEMENT OF
                                L .' NYE STEVENS
                         DIRECTOR, GOVERNMENTBUSINESS
                               OPERATIONS ISSUES
                   _'C
GAO's last testimony          before    this Subcommittee        on July 2
discussed     the major challenges          confronting      the Bureau in the
coming months,       including      completing     census follow-up       efforts     and
meeting    tight   time frames for the Post Enumeration                Survey (PES).
Today, GAO reports         on the Bureau's        progress     in addressing      those
challenges      as well as some possible           early   indications     of the
accuracy     and completeness        of census data.
The Bureau has completed            nonresponse     follow-up     efforts,     whereby
it seeks to obtain          completed    questionnaires       from households       that
did not initially         respond to the census,          in almost all of the 447
district    offices     that had such work.           The two offices       that have
not finished      hope to complete        work by July 27.          This is 7 weeks
after    the scheduled       completion    date of June 6, and 1 month after
the 3-week period         the Bureau built       into its planning         assumption
for expected      delays.
With the completion          of most nonresponse          follow-up    efforts,       the
Bureau has initiated            important    coverage     improvement     efforts,
including    verifying        the status     of the approximately         14 million
housing units       identified       as vacant or nonexistent          during
nonresponse     follow-up.         As of July 18, the Bureau reported                 it had
completed    about 76 percent           of this workload.          However, as a
result    of delays     in completing        nonresponse       work, these subsequent
follow-up    efforts      also have been delayed in some areas.                    The
timely    completion      of follow-up       efforts    is important      to ensuring
that the preliminary           counts provided       to local governments           at the
end of August are as complete              as possible.
Delays in completing       nonresponse      follow-up   also have delayed the
PES. For example,        PES field   interviewing     will   not be completed
in all areas       by the scheduled    July 27 end date.        GAO continues  to
believe     that given the tight     time schedule      and the scope and
complexity,     of the PES, it will     be very difficult       for the Bureau
to complete      all PES activities,      including   its evaluations,      in                 c
time for a possible       adjustment    by July 15, 1991.
Finally,     GAO notes that for about 3.5 percent                of the occupied
households      on its address list,             the Bureau was forced       to gather
data from a nonhousehold           member because the Bureau could not
locate    a resident.         eowever,     this occurred      much more in urban
areas than elsewhere.            The exact data quality          implications      of
this last resort        data are not known.            However, such data
introduces      a potential      source of error         into the census that falls
disproportionately          in some of those areas where the Bureau has
experienced       the greatest      difficulties       counting    the population.
Mr. Chairman             and Members of                    the      Subcommittee:


We dre       pleased         to be here             today           to discuss            the    status           of    the      1990
decennial          census       as the        Bureau              completes           follow-up           efforts             and
implements           critical          coverage                 improvement           and census              evaluation
efforts.           My comments           are based                  on our continuing                   effort,           as
requested          by the       Subcommittee,                     to monitor           census          operations              at
Bureau       headquarters              and in         the         field.


Our last          testimony         before          this          Subcommittee             in Austin,              Texas,           on
July       2 discussed          the     status             of     the      Bureau's        nonresponse                 follow-
up operation,              which      seeks         to obtain               completed           questionnaires                   from
households          on its         address          list          that      did     not    initially              respond           to
the     census.1           We noted          that          the major              challenges           confronting               the
Bureau       in    the     coming       months             included          completing           nonresponse
follow-up          efforts         and meeting                   tight      time      frames      for      the         Post
Enumeration           Survey          (PES).2              Today,          I will      discuss          the       progress
the     Bureau      is making           in    addressing                   those      challenges           as well             as
some possible              early       indications                  of     the     accuracy       and completeness
of     census      data.



l1990      Census:    Status of Questionnaire                                      Follow-up           Efforts          (GAO/T-
GGD-90-52,       July 2, 1990).
*The PES is a matching       study in which the Bureau interviews    a
sample of households‘,independent       of the census.   The persons
enumerated     in the PES households    are matched to census
questionnaire      records to determine    whether each person was
correctly     counted or missed in the census.

                                                                    1
                                                                                                              ,
FOLLOW-UP EFFORTS DELAYED
IN SOME AREAS

Since       the        Subcommittee's                last       hearing        on July        2, the       Bureau           has
continued              to ma$e progress                 completing             nonresponse            follow-up.
Based on information                        available            at    that      time,       38 of      the      447
district            offices         with         a nonresponse             follow-up          workload           either           had
not     finished              0.1: were     not      in the       final        stages        of nonresponse
follow-up.               Since       July         2, :most of          these      remaining           offices          have
completed            nonresponse             follow-up.                The only          offices       that       have not
finished         --the         West Manhattan                and Northwest               Manhattan         offices--
hope       to complete              work by July                27.       Such an end date,                if     met,
would       mean that              the     Bureau       fully         completed          nonresponse             follow-up
about       7 weeks after                  the     scheduled           completion            date     of June          6 and 1
month       after        the      3-week          period        the    Bureau       built      into      its      planning
assumption              for     delays.


The Bureau's                  Philadelphia            region,          which      covers       the     states          of
Pennsylvania,                  New Jersey,            Delaware,            and Maryland,              and is of
particular              interest           to the       Subcommittee              today,       reported           that       it
completed            nonresponse             follow-up            on July         10.        Lancaster,
Pennsylvania;                  Landover,           Maryland;           and Rockville,               Maryland,             were
the     last      of     the      region's          45 district               offices        to complete            the
activity.


With       the    completion               of most          nonresponse           follow-up           efforts,            the
Bu;eau         has initiated                two important                 coverage          improvement           efforts:
field         follow-up             and the           “Were You Counted?”                      campaign.                During
field         follow-up,             the      Bureau          follows          up on questionnaires                        that
did     iot         contain         complete           inf’ormation              and could                not     be resolved           by
telephone.
                               :


Field         follow-up             also      includes          the       vacant/delete                    check,       during
which         the     Bureau         verifies           the     status          of housing                 units     identified
as vacant             or nonexistent                  during         nonresponse               follow-up             and
instances             where         the     status       of     the       housing          unit           was not       resolved
at     the     end of         nonresponse               follow-up.                In 1980,                the     Bureau     visited
about         8.4 million             households               and estimated                  that         the     check     added
about         1.7 million                 individuals           to       the    census         count,            many of      them
minorities             who otherwise                  may have been missed                           by the         census.         For
1990,         the     Bureau         expects          to add between                   1.5     and 2 million
individuals                to the          census       as a result               of    the       1990 vacant/delete

check.           The Bureau                presently          plans        to visit            about            14 million
households             to verify              their      status.


As of         July     18,     the        most      recent       data          available             at     the     time     we
developed             this     statement,               the     Bureau          reported             it     had completed
about         76 percent             of     its     vacant/delete                 workload.                 Field       follow-up
was scheduled                 to be completed                   by July           24.        However,              as a result
of delays             in completing               nonresponse                  follow-up,                 27 offices,
priinarily            in     the     New York           and San Francisco                      regions,             had not       yet
reported             completing         any vacant/delete     verifications       by July 18.
                                       ,’
This     includes             the     West Manhattan     and Northwest      Manhattan   offices,

                                                                     3
.




    which          have not             yet         completed             nonresponse                   follow-up             and are not
    expected                 to begin           field           follow-up             until        the         first        week in
         ‘*
    August.


    The timely                 completion                  of    field          follow-up               is     important               to ensuring
    that          the        preliminary                counts           provided             to       local         governments               as part
    of      the     post         census             local        review          program           are as complete                       as
    possible.                  To carry              out        th-is     program,               the     Bureau            provides            local
    governments                  with         housing            unit      counts             at   the         census         block          level
    and asks                 them to          identify             or     “challenge”                   the       counts         they        believe
    are      incorrect.                  If         the     vacant/delete                     check          is      not    completed             when
    the      housing             unit         counts            are      provided             to the           governments               in     late
    August,             the      less-than-complete                          counts              could         result         in challenges
    from      local            governments                  that         otherwise             would           not      have been made if
    field          operations              were           completed              on time.


    The Bureau                 began          its       “Were You Counted?”                             campaign            as areas
    completed                 nonresponse                 follow-up.                  The “Were You Counted?”
    campaign             is designed                    to provide               individuals                   who believe               that        they
    or members of                    their           household             were missed                   in the            census        with        the
    opportunity                  to fill             out        a census             questionnaire                     printed          in     their
    local          newspaper             or obtained                     from        various            locations.                Individuals
    may also             provide              information                 to the           Bureau            over       the      phone.           Upon
    receipt             of     the      questionnaires,                      the          Bureau         determines               if     the
    respondents                 were       actually                missed            in    the     census              and adds          those
      u


                                                                                 4
 that       were     to the            census     count.           The operation                   is now ongoing
throughout                the    Nation.


PES EFFORTS CONTINUE TO BE DELAYED ‘U SOME AREAS


We noted            in our        July       2 testimony              that      delays           in completing
nonresponse                follow-up          delayed           the    start         of     PES field
interviewing                   in some areas,             but      the       Bureau        did      not     expect              that
these          delays       would        materially          affect            the    PES.          Since          that         time,
additional               delays         in completing             nonresponse                follow-up              further
impeded           PES field             activities.              According            to a headquarters
official           who manages              PES field            activities,               after      it      became
evident           that      nonresponse               follow-up           efforts          would      not         be completed
by the          planned          June      25 start        date        for      PES interviewing,                         the
Bureau          established              a new internal                deadline.              This         deadline              called
for      all      areas         to begin        PES interviewing                     no later         than          July         17,        or
3 weeks           later         than     originally          planned.                However,         the         Bureau             has
been forced               to     revise       that       deadline            to allow         interviewing                      in
seven          New York          region       district           office         areas        to begin             as late              as
July        23.      This        deadline        will      need to be further                        revised              because
the West Manhattan                       and Northwest                Manhattan            offices          will          not
finish          nonresponse              follow-up         by July            23.


PES interviewing                   was originally                 scheduled               to end on July                   27,
with        an additional                week to complete                    field        quality          control
ei!forts.            In addition              to beginning                PES interviewing                    late         in        some
                                               *
                                                                  5                                           A
                                                                                                              /
areas?          delay’s           in    sending        completed                   PES questionnaires                          to the
processing                 offices         are slowing                 the keying                     of    PES data           and may
dela’y     efforts                to match          PES data                with         census            data.           As of July              13,
the      Bureau            reported         it      had completed                        about            35,600        PES
quest ionna i res , or about                           22 percent                   of        its         workload.            However,
the      Bureau            also        reported        it      had shipped                         only         3,200
questionnaires                     to the         processing                 offices                for     keying.


The slow             progress            in transmitting                      completed                    work may be the
result          of    important             and stringent                     PES quality                        control       measures,
according             to a Bureau                 official.                  For example,                        the    work of each
PES interviewer                        is grouped             into      batches;                    the     Bureau          will      not
transmit             for     processing              any completed                           work         from      a batch         until          a
sample          of    the         work has cleared                    quality                 control             procedures.


According             to the            Bureau       official,                the            lag     may also              be the        result
of normal             start-up            delays            as regional                      census         staff          learn         PES
field      procedures.                    The Bureau                 will          not        know until                the    week of
July      23,        at which            time      regional             staff                would         be expected              to have
fully      learned                PES procedures,                    the      extent                to which            each of          these
factors          is. contributing                    to the            lag         in        shipping             completed           work,            or
what,      if        any,         corrective           actions               are        needed             to     improve          the      flow
of completed                 work.


The Bureau                 continues            to believe              that            it     will         be able           to overcome
t’he delay            in beginning                  ‘PES interviewing                          an3 subsequent                      efforts
                                                   ,
will        not    be impaired.                     However,           as we previously                          reported            to the
Subcommittee,               we believe                that       in        light         of     the      tight         time
schedule           and the           scope          and complexity                      of     the      PES, it         will         be very
difficult           for     the       Bureau           to complete,the                         PES and related
evaluation              activities             in     time       for            a possible              adjustment.3                  The
Department              of Commerce,                 in     accordance                  with      a court-approved
stipulation               and order,                agreed       that            if     the     Secretary              decides          to
adjust         census       counts,            it     would         publish              adjusted             counts          no later
than        July    15,     1991.


RATES OF SURROGATE POPULATION DATA VARY
SIGNIFICANTLY AMONG DISTRICT OFFICES

The Bureau’s               procedures                call     for          it         to go to great                lengths            in    its
attempts           to gather           information                  from              households           on its           address
list        that    did     not       return          a census                  questionnaire                 by mail.
However,           in     some cases,                primarily                  in urban          areas,          the       Bureau          is
forced         to gather             information              on households                       from        persons           who are
not    members of             the      household.                   Such surrogate                       information
introduces              a source         of potential                      error         into        the      census.


In instances               when a housing                    unit          is occupied                  but      the    Bureau
cannot         locate       a resident                at home,                  the     Bureau          instructs              its
enumerators               to make up to three                          personal                visits         at different



3Critical   Issues for Census Adjustment:     Completing Post
Enumeration    Survey on Time While Protecting    Data Quality                                                                       (GAO/T-
GGD-90-15, Jan 30, 19903.
                                                                       7
                                                                                                                        k
times        of    the    day on different                       days        and,          if      a phone          number           is
available,           Up    to three              phone         calls,             to try           to gather            information.
      1,

If,     after       repeated            attempts,              the      Bureau            still           is unable            to
locate        a household              member or if                    the household                      refuses        to     respond
to     the    census,           the     Bureau           generally            will              collect         census
information              from     other          knowledgeable                     sources.                These
knowledgeable              sources            may:include                   neighbors,               mail        carriers,
building           managers,           or others.                    This         "last          resort"         information
consists,           at    a minimum,                of    a household                 roster,              certain
characteristics                  of     the      individuals                 in the              household           (for       example,
sex and race),               and characteristics                             of      the         housing         unit         (for
example,           whether        the       unit         is    a single              family           detached           home,            an
apartment,           or other            type        of dwelling).4


The Bureau           gathered            last        resort           data         on almost               3 million,                or
about        3.5    percent,           of     the        89 million                occupied               housing        units            on
the     Bureau's          address           list.             This      percentage                  therefore            includes
the     63 percent           of       the     Nation's               housing          units           that      mailed          back a
completed           census        questionnaire                      as well          as those               that       did     not        but
were     identified              as occupied                  during         nonresponse                   follow-up            and
other        enumeration              efforts.                While         our      results              are    preliminary                   at

40nce a district          office     has completed       95 percent     of its
nonresponse       follow-up       workload,     the Bureau will        accept "less than
last resort"        information        for the remaining       cases.      Less than last
resort     information        qonsists      of a household      roster    and a
dqscription       of the building           in which the household         resides.    The
Bur,eau's reported         rates'of       last resort     data include       cases where
it collected        less than Alast resort          information.              ..
                                                                             't
            c
’       c
    l




                this       point,          the    rate         of    such data                 varied        significantly                         among
                district            offices,         from           a low of                0.82      percent           of     occupied                 housing
                unit;       in      the     South        St.        Louis            office         to 17.46            percent               in the
                Chicago           Near Quth              office.


                Urban       district             offices            generally                 had the highest                      rates           of     last
                resort       data.           For example,                      all      of     the       46 off ices               that        gathered
                last       resort         data     at more than                       double          the    national               average               are
                urban       offices,             including                the        13 offices             that        had last               resort
                rates       for      occupied            units            of     10 percent               or more.


                In the       Philadelphia                  region,               two of            the    region’s             16 urban                 district
                offices           gathered         last         resort               data      on 10 percent                   or more of                  all
                occupied           housing         units,            including                 the West Philadelphia                                off ice,
                which       led      the     region         with           over         13 percent               last        resort            data        on
                occupied           units.          Again,            it        is     important             to keep in m ind that
                these       rates         express          last           resort            data     as a percentage                          of    all
                occupied           housing         units            and not            merely            those      in       the     nonresponse
                follow-up            workload.


                Urban       areas         traditionally                    have proven                   hardest         for        the        Bureau            to
                enumerate,             and the           factors               that         lead     to high            rates’ of              last        resort       l




                data       in these          areas         appear              to be among those                        that        contribute                   to a
                low census mail                   response                rate        and a possible                    census            undercount.
                Bureau       district             office            and regional                    officials            in     5 of           the
                Bireau’s           13 reg ions,             including                  Philadelphia,                    whom we interviewed
                                                              .,                                                                          ;
        ia ’
    .
.



               pointed          to a number of                    factors           that        may explain              high         rates         of
               last      resort        information.                     For example,                 undocumented                 residents                may
               fear      reprisals               if      they     cooperate              with       the    census          and residents                       in
               high      crime        are,a,s may f’ear                 opening            thei.r     doors         to strangers,
               including            census             enumerators.                 District          office            officials              in a
               number         of    cities,              including            New     York        and Los Angeles,                      said        that
               difficulties                in obtaining                 access            to secured             multi-unit               buildings
               contributed             to high              rates-.of          last        resort         information.


               In Pennsylvania,                        district         office           officials            in    Pittsburgh                 and
               Philadelphia                also         noted        that      last        resort         rates         tend      to be high                   in
               areas      with        concentrations                    of     public           housing.            They said              that
               households             with            more than         the      authorized               number of             residents                in
               the     unit        may not             be willing             to cooperate                with      the        census          despite
               the     Bureau’s            assurances                of confidentiality.                           Similar            to other
               urban      areas I two of                    the      three       Philadelphia                 region           district
               offices         with        the         highest        rates         of     last      resort         data        for       occupied
               housing         units--                West Philadelphia                    and Newark,              New        Jersey--had                 a
               45 percent             mail            response        rate,         the     lowest          in the         region          and among

               the     lowest         in      the       Nation.


               In the         past,        the         Bureau        has not          studied         the        effect’         that
               collecting             census             information             from       nonhousehold                 members has on
               the     accuracy            and completeness                      of census            data         nor     is     last         resort
               data      from       1980 available.,                        We understand                 that      the        Bureau          is
               e$amining            1990 last               resort          rates         in offices             that      significantly
exceeded          the     national               average.               While         the extent              to which             last
resort        information                 impairs             data      quality            is    not      possible            to
determine           at    this        point,            such data              clearly           introduces                a source           of
potential           error.      This error will have its                                         greatest            impact         in
                            <.
urban       areas        with high rates of last resort                                          data.             In addition,               to
the     extent       last          resort         data             does have an impact                      on the           quality          of
the     census I it           occurs           disproportionately                           in     some of           those         areas
where       the     Bureau          has experienced                         the      greatest            difficulties
counting          the     population.


We believe           that          high     rates             of     last      resort           data,       especially              in the
traditionally                hard-to-enumerate                          areas,          point          to the        need for             a
vigorous          exploration               of     alternative                      methodologies              to       taking         the
census.           In particular,                   we believe                  the      use of sampling                      and other
statistical              techniques               for         future         censuses            needs        to be
considered.               We therefore                       agree      with         the    Bureau’s           decision             to
study       the     use of          sampling                 for     the     census         as part           of     its      1990
research          program.


                              we                        --                     --                   --




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




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