GPO Awards $115 Million for Census Questionnaires, Paper Products

Maria Dryfhout/Shuttersock.com

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The contract was recompeted after the previous vendor filed for bankruptcy.

The Government Publishing Office on Tuesday awarded a $114.6 million contract on behalf of the U.S. Census Bureau to cover printing materials and mailing services related to the 2020 count.

Under the deal, Chicago-based R.R. Donnelley and Sons Company will produce and disseminate the numerous questionnaires, letters, postcards and envelopes that every household will start receiving early next year.

The office previously awarded Conveo a $61 million contract to provide similar services, but the deal was rescinded in July after the company filed for bankruptcy.

“GPO is committed to working with the U.S. Census Bureau on the successful production of the 2020 Census,” GPO Acting Deputy Director Herbert H. Jackson, Jr. said in a statement.

While mail questionnaires are still the method used to collect the majority of population data, their effectiveness is on the decline. In the 1970 count, nearly 80 percent of U.S. households returned questionnaires by mail, but by 2010 that number dropped to 63 percent.

The 2020 Census will mark the first time U.S. residents can fill out questionnaires online. But while officials increasingly embrace technology to raise response rates and cut costs, they’ve run into a number of complications along the way.

In the run-up to 2020, the bureau has been plagued by budgetary shortcomings, shoddy employee background checks and botched field tests. Its rushed rollout of IT equipment is also raising concerns about the systems’ cybersecurity.

As a division of the Commerce Department, the Census Bureau is closed under the current government shutdown. However, more than 24,500 temporary employees are allowed to continue working, mostly to support 2020 preparations, according to the agency’s contingency plan.