GAO: Census' Temp IT Training Lax

The U.S. Census Bureau has not developed an effective computer-training program for the thousands of temporary workers it plans to hire to interview citizens who may not send in census forms for the upcoming 2010 census, according to a report released last week by the General Accountability Office.

Census officials plan to outfit an estimated 525,000 enumerators with handheld computers. Census hires enumerators as temporary employees to track down individuals who have not filled out census forms. The enumerators will use the handheld computers to input answers to census questions and then later download the data to Census databases. The handheld computers, provided by contractor Harris Corp., will replace the paper-and-pencil process enumerators have used for decades.

But the GAO warns that the Census Bureau's hiring procedures do not look for candidates who have computer skills. For example, crew leaders, those in charge of supervising enumerators, will be in charge of troubleshooting any problems with the handheld computers. But the Census does not plan to ask candidates for crew leader positions if they have computer experience and skills that would allow them to be effective in fixing any problems that may arise with the handheld computers. The GAO concludes:

The bureau is providing some computer-based training on using the handheld computers for the nonresponse follow-up and address canvassing operations and will include visual aids to enhance training on using the handheld computers. Nonetheless, the bureau’s standardized approach to delivering training, including reading training scripts word-for-word over the course of several days, has remained largely unchanged. The bureau has not evaluated alternate training delivery approaches, such as providing video segments, as has been recommended by us and the [Office of Inspector general].