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Computer problems lead to skyrocketing Census costs

Frequent outages in a Census Bureau computer system used to manage the 2010 count are driving up costs and put accuracy at risk because of substantial overtime required to deal with the problem, a new audit says.

The report from the Commerce Department inspector general, obtained Wednesday by the Associated Press, offers details on the scope of problems as more than 600,000 census workers begin fanning neighborhoods this month to conduct interviews at 48 million homes.

It said major outages had caused a 40-hour backlog of work over two weeks in April, causing substantial amounts of overtime and other workarounds. Overtime costs have already reached more than $1.6 million, with costs expected to balloon -- potentially beyond the Census Bureau's $15 billion budget -- due to the heavy workload now required in its door-to-door canvassing.

Investigators said the demands in dealing with the computer problems were threatening to "diminish staff retention," add to costs if the system was unable to process census forms that were mailed in late as planned, and cause inaccuracies if census data can't be put in the system immediately.

In a news briefing this week, Census Bureau Director Robert Groves acknowledged the problems but said that officials had gotten over a "big hump" in the workload in the past week when they were able to print assignments for more than 600,000 enumerators.

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