PREPARED STATEMENT OF KENNETH PREWITT DIRECTOR, U.S. BUREAU OF THE CENSUS

Mar 8, 2000
Press Release

Mr. Chairman, Mrs. Maloney, and Members of the Subcommittee: I welcome this opportunity to report on the status of Census 2000. When I last testified, we were 53 days from Census Day, April 1. Now we are 24 days away and the clock is racing. Much has happened in the last month. The next few weeks will be the most demanding phase of Census 2000 thus far.

To put things in perspective, we need to take stock of all the major operations and preparations for Census 2000 that we have successfully completed so far. I refer to the production of the Master Address File of 120 million addresses, which was developed through numerous complex operations, including working with the U.S. Postal Service, the rural address listing operation, the block canvassing operation in urban areas, and two major phases in 1998 and 1999 of the Local Update of Census Addresses. We have successfully established our field network of 12 regional census centers and 520 local census offices--they are open, have already been working hard, and are ready for the next phase of operations. We have successfully printed the questionnaires that will go to each of the addresses on our address file. We have successfully developed and begun implementation of our ambitious paid advertising campaign. We have idenfitied nearly 90,000 partnerships. We continue to be on track to take the best census we can.

In an operation as large as the decennial census, there are going to be numerous and constant issues that present problems for the census. The census is a vast, multi-part and rapidly moving system, involving hundreds of operations and hundreds of thousands of temporary employees. On a daily basis we have to deal with problems such as:

the fire a few months ago in one Chicago area local census office;

the need to develop special procedures to handle persons temporarily displaced by last fall's flooding in North Carolina;

developing procedures for cases where census enumerators may not have full access to facilities serving special populations, such as Salvation Army soup kitchens and mobile food vans;

backlogs caused by a higher than expected demand for Census in Schools packages;

backlogs in the security check we do for job applicants;

a bomb threat in one Kentucky local census office.

We have successfully dealt with each of these issues (and the list is far from exhaustive), but new ones will take their place tomorrow and the next day and every day until the census is completed. While such issues require attention and resources, while they can be frustrating, while they often generate news stories we then try to correct, they are not of a nature to put the census at risk. Such an issue could arise, but to date it has not.

The most significant issue to date has been the addressing error on the advance letter, but it was not of a character that put the census at risk. We learned two weeks ago that an addressing error on the advance letter occurred during printing and addressing by a private vendor. It should have been caught earlier by our quality assurance process and we accept full responsibility for our failure to detect it. An extra digit was added in front of the street address of every letter. Fortunately, the U.S. Postal Service, which has been a very cooperative partner in this effort, use automated sorting machines to read the proper address from the barcode. The USPS delivered the advance letter beginning March 1 in the update/leave areas and beginning March 6 and continuing through today in the mailout/mailback areas. We have checked and determined that no other mailings are subject to the error.

I emphasize that the census questionnaires, which will be mailed beginning March 13, are addressed correctly and this incident with the advance letter does not affect the production, mailing, or delivery of any other census mail. We have taken additional steps in our advertising campaign, with our community partners, and through the media to stress the importance of opening and reading the advance letter. We have done this because we want everyone to open and read the advance letter; it's an important part of our mail strategy. But in addition to alerting everyone that their census form is coming and that it is important to answer, this mailing also offers the opportunity for those who need a questionnaire in one of five languages other than English (Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, and Tagalog) to request one. So we took this problem very seriously and took aggressive steps to deal with it.

I also want to thank you and Mrs. Maloney for your statements concerning a recent mailing that appeared to mimic an official census form, but in fact was simply a fundraising device. We are very concerned that deceptive mailings could reduce mail response by sowing confusion about what is or is not an official census form. This is what an official census envelope looks like and we want everyone to open it, fill out the form inside, and mail it back.

When I last testified, I said that I would bring to the committee's attention any problems in the implementation of Census 2000 that could place the census at risk. I subsequently advised you by letter of the several categories in which a serious or systemic problem could occur in the current time frame. This list of potential problems included the update/leave operation, which successfully began on March 3. Other major categories of potential problems include: problems with our payroll system that would prevent us from paying our employees on a timely basis; widespread problems filling enumerator positions, despite our extensive pool of qualified applicants; problems with the Census 2000 address file that would prevent our employees from being able to fulfill their responsibilities; or a major breakdown in the telephone questionnaire assistance operation.

The next phase of the census adds things to this list. Between today and March 29, when I am next scheduled to testify before the Congress--though on that occasion to the House appropriations subcommittee, of which you are a member, Mr. Chairman--we expect to complete the update/leave operation, mail out questionnaires in the mailout/mailback areas, begin the data capture process, start the enumeration of special populations, and begin reporting to the nation the mailback response rate as part of our '90 plus Five campaign. Major problems that could develop during this period include: breakdowns in data capture systems or in questionnaire delivery; unexpectedly low mail response rates; any event that could undermine faith in the confidentiality of the data, such as a hacker on our Internet site; or a failure to meet our promise to provide the mailback response rate to the public.

I today renew my pledge to keep you informed should major census-threatening problems develop in these areas, or any other. Not anticipating such problems, I expect that our scheduled hearings will keep you apprised of any potential changes needed to ensure that Census 2000 data are of the highest quality.

Update on Operational Status

In your letter of invitation, you asked for The status and a brief overview of the Census 2000 operational timeline, and readiness for key activities. As I mentioned earlier, we began the update/leave operation on March 3, as planned. Census enumerators are leaving questionnaires at approximately 24 million housing units in areas (including Puerto Rico) that have several different address types. These areas are mostly in small towns and rural areas where address systems have less geographic structure. Update/leave will continue throughout March. All local census offices conducting update/leave operations are fully staffed.

Telephone questionnaire assistance (TQA) also began on March 3 and will run through June 8. There are 6 toll-free telephone numbers (in English, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, and Tagalog) where people can call to get assistance in filling out their questionnaire, get replacement questionnaires, get language assistance guides, or provide their census questionnaire information. Beginning today, and continuing through mid-April we also will conduct questionnaire assistance center operations at pre-designated walk-in sites. We now have identified over 27,000 such sites.

We designed the TQA system to handle a limited volume of calls the first few days. We will have more TQA operators available to answer calls at peak. If the volume is heavier than expected in the early phase, perhaps because our partners prematurely publicize the telephone number, or if we underestimated the peak workload, this would strain the TQA operation.

As mentioned above, as of today we have mailed the advance letter. The purpose of this letter is to inform householders that they will soon get their questionnaire and to encourage them to mail it back. We also provide an opportunity in this letter for those who want a form in Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, or Tagalog to request one. For that reason, we are making every effort to reach out to those language-isolated communities to take advantage of this opportunity, despite the stray number on the address.

In just 5 days, from March 13 through March 15, the U.S. Postal Service will deliver questionnaires to some 98 million addresses in what we call mailout/mailback areas of the country. These addresses are generally in urban areas but can occur in small and mid-sized towns and even some rural areas. The questionnaires are at the postal delivery centers and are ready to be delivered.

Also beginning March 13, and continuing throughout March and April, census enumerators will visit about half a million housing units in list/enumerate areas, in an operation similar to that initiated in Alaska on January 19. These are remote, sparsely populated areas where it is not efficient to compile a precensus address list. At the time enumerators visit each housing unit, they will list the unit and complete a questionnaire. Also at this time, we will begin the update/enumerate operation, which is conducted in communities with special enumeration needs and where most housing units may not have house number and street name addresses. These areas include selected American Indian Reservations, unincorporated Spanish-speaking communities along the border of Texas and Mexico (colonias), and resort areas with high concentrations of seasonably vacant housing units.

Beginning on March 20, we will mail out a reminder card to those housing units we are asking to return a form by mail. Many will have already mailed back their forms, but this reminder will spur others to do so as soon as possible.

Hiring and Marketing

You also asked in your letter of invitation for The status of the hiring process with respect to March 1, 2000 hiring goals. Hiring continues to progress well. All hiring goals for the update/leave operation have been met. Our goal is to have a qualified applicant pool of 2.4 million individuals, and we have recruited over 1.8 million qualified applicants, 74 percent of those needed, and slightly ahead of our goal for March 1, which is 70 percent. We are taking special steps to bring all local census offices up to the goal. These steps cover a range of intensity, based on where a local census office is in relation to the goal. If an office is at or near the goal, for example, we might increase recruiting staff, distribute flyers, use targeted postcard mailings, or seek help from our partners. If an office is at less than 75% of the goal, we would intensify activities to include advertising, neighborhood blitzes, making special appeals to community based organizations, bringing in expert recruiting teams, and so on. As a last resort, we are prepared to raise wages to assure an adequate pool of workers.

I also want to provide an update on marketing issues. On February 14, we unveiled a special advertising campaign to stress the confidentiality of census information. We believe that one of the reasons people might not mail back their census forms is that many people fear that their personal information will be shared with other government agencies. Of course, this is simply not true. Census data are strictly confidential and will not be shared with any other government agency, not the Internal Revenue Service, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, or any other law enforcement organization. President Clinton reinforced this message of census confidentiality on February 14 when he spoke at an award ceremony involving the League of United Latin American Citizens. To reinforce this message further, we have unveiled three public service announcements featuring Major League baseball players Ivan Rodriguez of the Texas Rangers, Derek Jeter of the New York Yankees, and Barry Bonds of the San Francisco Giants.

These psa's focus on the confidentiality of the census and will run on broadcast and cable networks and there will be a fourth psa that will run on Spanish-language networks. We are getting additional help from the Catholic Church to convince people that it's safe to answer the census. On February 20, I had the distinct pleasure to join Archbishop Patrick Flores and Representative Charlie Gonzalez at a mass in the San Fernando Cathedral in San Antonio to encourage participation and support for the census.

At the last hearing, I mentioned that in mid-February, 12 vans would set out from 12 locations on a Road Tour across the country stopping at community events to promote Census 2000. They will operate until April 15. I was fortunate enough to be invited to appear on NBC's Today Show on February 16 to kickoff the van tour and promote the census. Other recent van appearances have included the Grammy music awards in Los Angeles and an event in Chicago attended by the Rev. Jesse Jackson and former boxer Rubin "Hurricane" Carter. Each vehicle is equipped with exhibits, videos, printed information, and other giveaways to spread the message that Census 2000 is on its way. The Road Tour underscores our belief that Census 2000 is a national civic celebration.

Next week is "Teach Census Week," a special phase of our Census in Schools program in which we are encouraging every participating classroom teacher to teach a lesson on the census. So far, we have shipped over 1.3 million Census in Schools teacher kits to the schools; these packages contain lesson plans and wall maps. In addition, take-home materials have been shipped to all elementary school teachers and to all social studies teachers in junior high and middle schools. Again, I want to thank the many Members of Congress who have sponsored or participated in Census in Schools events in their districts.

Other Specific Issues Listed in the Letter of Invitation

The status of data capture systems (DCS 2000), including recent test results and the subsequent migration to the "two pass" system.

The Census Bureau recently completed the final operations test and dry run according to plan and a pre-production operations test at all four sites. During the operations test and dry run in two of our sites, we learned that data keying (required for many write in items and some checkbox entries, and more complex for sample data items) was taking longer than originally estimated. Based on these test results, we have implemented a two-pass processing system. In the first pass, we will capture the 100% data that is asked of everyone and some of which is necessary to provide the constitutionally mandated apportionment numbers to the President. In the second pass, we will capture the sample data from the long forms. This approach ensures that we will meet all processing deadlines and provides us with some staffing contingency. This decision has no impact on the schedule for the release of information for apportionment and redistricting and minimal impact on sample data.

During the four-site test, staff introduced and successfully tested the first pass of the two-pass software for the 100% data items. We are still developing the testing schedule for the second pass of the two-pass operation for those items asked of only a sample of the population.

Any difficulties confronting Local or Regional Census Offices.

All local census offices and regional census offices are functioning and we are confident that the basic field infrastructure for Census 2000 is sound. Earlier I noted that there was a fire in one Chicago area office. That office is now in full operation. We are working closely with the General Services Administration to resolve problems in one of our New York City local census offices. We have corrected problems with the water supply and are working to correct problems with rodent infestation and a leaking sprinkler head. We have completed telephone installations and upgrades in all the local census offices. All offices have handled calls during the peak recruitment period without a major problem.

Preparation and issues concerning Internet response to Census 2000 short-form questionnaires and tabulation processes.

Internet data collection and questionnaire assistance began on March 3. For the first time, the Census Bureau is providing questionnaire assistance over the Internet and the option of answering the short-form questionnaire via the Internet. The questionnaire assistance effort provides on-line help to respondents who need help in completing either a traditional paper questionnaire or the web-based Internet short form, as well as providing answers to other frequently asked questions about Census 2000. The Internet data collection option allows respondents to answer an English language version short-form questionnaire over a special, secure Internet website if they can provide a valid housing unit identification number from their paper questionnaire. There is also an English language version of the Puerto Rico short form. Internet data collection will operate until April 15, 2000. The Internet questionnaire assistance operation will end the first week of June.

Two major issues that we had to deal with in designing our Internet data collection system were how to keep track of enumerations and how to ensure confidentiality. To keep track of enumerations, we are requiring that the respondent enter the identification number from the short form questionnaire they received in the mail before completing the questionnaire by Internet. This will allow us to keep track of the addresses on our Master Address File from which we have received a response and also help minimize the possibility of duplicate enumerations from those who both answer by Internet and mail back their paper form. In order to ensure confidentiality, we are using the appropriate encryption technology and firewalls to protect previously filed data.

Also, for the first time, the Census Bureau will provide Internet access to Census 2000 data through a newly developed system called the American FactFinder. Initial Census 2000 data will be available in early 2001. Data are available now in American FactFinder for the 1990 census, the 1997 Economic Census, the American Community Survey, and the Census 2000 Dress Rehearsal. Data users can use the American FactFinder to select the data they need for the geography of their choice from summary data products. Users will be able to search, browse, retrieve, view, print, save, and download data. Or they can create custom tabulations from microdata files, subject to strict confidentiality standards.

Status of and issues confronting Questionnaire Assistance Centers and "Be-Counted" questionnaire sites.

Our partnership staff are working with community groups, business leaders, and local government officials to identify Be Counted sites appropriate to each community. Staff have confirmed over 15,000 sites. At these locations, which will operate from March 31 to April 11, people who believe they did not receive a census form, believe they were not included on a census questionnaire returned by their household, or who have no usual address on Census Day will be able to pick up a Be Counted questionnaire.

Regional staff have also identified over 27,000 questionnaire assistance centers. These centers, which will operate from today through mid-April, will provide assistance to individuals who might have difficulty completing the questionnaire because of language or other barriers. Be Counted forms will also be available at these sites.

Sites include, but are not limited to, community and civic centers, banks, libraries, schools, grocery stores, health centers, and places of worship. Census Bureau partnership specialists are working with local partners to publicize questionnaire assistance centers and Be Counted sites in their area. The Census Bureau has developed posters in six languages to identify questionnaire assistance center sites and publicize site locations throughout the community. Posters have also been produced that identify Be Counted locations and advise people of the availability of census forms at these sites.

In addition, we are encouraging partners to publicize the sites in local papers, flyers, community meetings, religious bulletins, and radio and television news programs.

The Census Bureau has selected and trained paid clerks and is seeking additional volunteers to provide assistance at the questionnaire assistance centers. Paid clerks were selected based on their ability to provide appropriate language or literacy assistance in communities that need this type of support. All individuals providing assistance at questionnaire assistance centers--whether paid or volunteer--have been sworn to protect the confidentiality of individual information on the questionnaires. It has been a challenge to attract a sufficient number of volunteers, but with the help of our partners and the Corporation for National Service, we have adequate staff to operate the centers.

The Census Bureau is selecting and training staff to serve as Be Counted clerks in the local census offices. These clerks will conduct advance visits to all sites to ensure their suitability, set up the sites, resupply forms as necessary, and close down the sites at the end of the operation. Unlike questionnaire assistance centers, the Be Counted sites are not staffed. They simply are places where people can pick up a form to complete and mail back.

Mr. Chairman, in conclusion, I repeat that at this point, 24 days from Census Day, I am aware of no serious problems that would put the census at risk. The next month is crucial. I cannot promise you that serious problems will not develop, but I will inform you and Mrs. Maloney if they do.

Mr. Chairman, that concludes my testimony and I will now answer any questions.

 

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