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Census Cost to Double in 2020

Census Cost Projected to be $22 Billion

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Results Of 2010 U.S. Census Are Unveiled

Results Of 2010 U.S. Census Are Unveiled

Win McNamee/Getty Images
Updated February 08, 2011

If you thought the census cost in 2010 was staggering, wait until 2020.

So warns the U.S. Department of Commerce's Office of Inspector General, which reported after the completion of the $14.7 billion 2010 head count that the census cost could nearly double by 2020.

See more: What the Census Spent to Get You to Mail It Back

And that's too much.

"Such cost growth is unsustainable," wrote the Officer of Inspector General in December 2010. "Census must make fundamental changes to the design, implementation, and management of the decennial census in order to obtain a quality count for a reasonable cost."

Census Cost in 2010

At $14.7 billion, the budget for the 2010 head count was more than twice that of the roughly $6.5 billion 2000 census, a detail that didn't escape notice of critics.

The 72 percent response rate in 2010 remained the same as in 2000 despite a $340 million advertising campaign that included a $20,000 totem pole.

See more: 2010 Census Comes in $1.6 Billion Under Budget, But ...

The 2010 census was fraught with technical malfunctions.

In the run-up to the 2010 head count, the operation's budget ballooned by about $3 billion after the Census Bureau was forced to scrap wireless handheld computers.

Projected Census Cost in 2020

The census cost could balloon to at least $22 billion in 2020, nearly double that of the 2010 census cost, unless the Commerce Department makes substantial changes to the decennial operation, the Inspector General's Office warned.

"Alternative approaches to the labor-intensive end-of-decade address list improvement and non-response follow-up operations - both of which were major 2010 cost drivers - must be explored and tested early in the decade to prevent schedule delays or cost increases, and to enhance accuracy."

The Inspector General's Office also suggest the Census Bureau improve its information-technology management, as well as reduce costs and risk by limiting the use of onetime-use technology.

Use of American Community Survey to Cut Census Cost

One possible way of cutting the census cost would be to test, develop and practice the decennial headcount through the American Community Survey, which continuously samples U.S. households and businesses.

See more: The Census is Being Too Nosy? That's a Laugh

The American Community Survey replaced the once-a-decade "long form" and is conducted on an ongoing basis in every part of the country, using a national sample size of 250,000 households per month.

"Employing this survey to incrementally test various aspects of the 2020 census ... would reduce both cost and risk during future decennials," the Inspector's General's office suggested.

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