Census To Catch Up With The 21st Century, In Ten Years

4618583119_ca5431ab6e_oIf you’re still around in 2020, the Census Bureau hopes to be able to give you the option of responding electronically:

Happy Tuesday! How will Americans use the Internet in 2020? Will we all use cell phones? Will we still have snail mail?

A team of experts at the U.S. Census Bureau is asking those questions in preparation for the 2020 Census even as temporary workers are knocking on doors to complete the 2010 Census. Final answers won’t be needed for about eight years, but the team hopes to keep costs below the $14.7 billion budget for the 2010 Census and to make it possible for at least some Americans to answer census questions via the Internet.

“None of us can imagine doing a 2020 Census without an Internet option,” Census Bureau Director Robert Groves said in an interview. Though he’s overseeing the 2010 Census, most of his tenure will be tied to 2020 preparations — and he’s pushing for a more efficient operation with fewer people.

“The easiest way to reduce costs in the Census is to reduce manpower,” Groves said. “To the extent that we can reduce the number of census worker visits in 2020, we’re going to save a lot of money.”

The cost and time benefits are obvious, but Groves said a Web option “will really be great for those people who are difficult to contact in person who are at home very infrequently.” The agency won’t move entirely online, since a Web-only effort would make it difficult to count rural areas or illiterate people, he said.

Internet options will be tested in the next ten years with the annual American Community Survey that tracks demographic and economic statistics. Groves expects the agency would send the questionnaire in paper format with an Internet address and code allowing people to submit answers online.

Of course, the Canadians already had this idea, and implemented it four years ago:

Canada did something similar with its 2006 census and 18.6 percent of respondents replied online, said Mark Hamel, manager of the 2011 census for Statistics Canada, the Canadian equivalent of the Census Bureau. Every Canadian household received a paper form with a secure access code and the agency used a computer network with double encryption similar to the security features used for online banking, he said.

“Everything indicates that we’re going to be able to more than double our online responses in 2011,”

One might wonder, of course, why the Census Bureau didn’t make at least an initial effort to follow the example of our neighbors to the north. The Canadian Census is likely a smaller task to plan than here in the United States, but there doesn’t seem to be any reason other than the “we’ve always done it this way” attitude that often prevails in government institutions. I know that if I’d had an option to complete my census form online, I would’ve used it, and I’m sure many other Americans would have too.

So, I guess we should be happy to see the Census entering the 21st Century, it’s just too bad they couldn’t do it sooner.

FILED UNDER: Bureaucracy, Government, US Politics, ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. c.red says:

    …but there doesn’t seem to be any reason other than the “we’ve always done it this way” attitude that often prevails in government institutions.

    Or it could be that the last administration was utterly incompetent and had no interest in government other than the perks and lining their own pockets?

    I realize this is meant as an inocuous “look at the silly things government does” post but why must we look at the last administration as government as usual. It is going to take years and several administrations to replace low level bureaucrats that were hired for ideological reasons rather than competence and are undermining performance just by being in jobs they don’t believe in.

    Government has not always been incompetent, it just got that way after eight years of neglect. Sorry, end rant….

  2. TangoMan says:

    One might wonder, of course, why the Census Bureau didn’t make at least an initial effort to follow the example of our neighbors to the north.

    It might be that the Canadian Civil Service still selects candidates through civil service exams and that such exams were phased out in the US when they resulted in too much disparate impact between African Americans and Caucasian Americans. In short, the Canadian Civil Service is more competent than the American Civil Service.

  3. floyd says:

    “Government has not always been incompetent”

    Now I don’t care who you are… That there’s funny!

    But this is just silly….

    “it just got that way after eight years of neglect.”