Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Portables Government United States Hardware News

Census Bureau To Scrap Handhelds — Cost $3 Billion 264

Posted by kdawson
from the one-two-three-many dept.
GovTechGuy writes "The Census Bureau will tell a House panel today that it will drop plans to use handheld computers to help count Americans for the 2010 census, increasing the cost for the decennial census by as much as $3 billion, according to testimony the Commerce Department secretary plans to give this afternoon."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Census Bureau To Scrap Handhelds — Cost $3 Billion

Comments Filter:
  • Surplus (Score:5, Funny)

    by Jhon (241832) * on Thursday April 03, 2008 @11:51AM (#22952916) Homepage Journal
    Will they sell the hand-helds? Or give them away like Cheese in the 80's?
    • Re:Surplus (Score:5, Funny)

      by SQLGuru (980662) on Thursday April 03, 2008 @11:55AM (#22952944) Journal
      Look for them on Woot during the next Woot-off.

      Layne
    • Re:Surplus (Score:4, Insightful)

      by d3ac0n (715594) on Thursday April 03, 2008 @11:58AM (#22953010)
      I don't think they ever bought them. The cost difference is related to the extra time and manpower that a paper census will take vs the costs for an electronic one.

      Personally I think this is a good thing. Better to spend money to do things the tried and true way than to experiment with a "hi-tech" solution that may or may not have exploitable weaknesses in it. We've all seen how faulty the electronic voting machines have been, I think it's wise that the census folks don't want to go down that road.

      Kudos to the Census people, and to House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Neb) for supporting and encouraging their wise decision.
      • Re:Surplus (Score:5, Informative)

        by Gat0r30y (957941) on Thursday April 03, 2008 @12:05PM (#22953142) Homepage Journal

        I don't think they ever bought them.
        Nah, didn't buy em, just dropped 1/2 a Billion into development it would appear.
        From the Article -

        In 2006, the Census Bureau awarded a $595 million contract to Harris Corp. to develop more than 525,000 handheld computers that enumerators would use to collect data from Americans who did not send in their census forms.
        • by cgenman (325138)
          AAAAnd that's when we force Harris Corp to pick up their own bill, as they massively failed to deliver on time.

        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          Half a billion dollars??? 525,000 computers?

          That's only roughly 6000 citizens entered into each computer. Sounds like paper's more effective.

          I wrote a handheld inventory and distribution control system for my company and it handles 6000 pallets every day. The handhelds cost $3000 each, can be run over by a forklift and dropped at least 5', have a barcode reader and wifi built in. My time, the hardware, and the infrastructure cost less than $50,000.

          I'd say this census project was just horribly m
          • by Gat0r30y (957941)

            I'd say this census project was just horribly mismanaged.
            Well of course it was, this is none other than the US Government were talking about here!
        • In 2006, the Census Bureau awarded a $595 million contract to Harris Corp. to develop more than 525,000 handheld computers that enumerators would use to collect data from Americans who did not send in their census forms.

          No wonder the project failed. Why not have them develop 1 handheld computer, and produce 525,000 units for enumerators to use?

          So this is hell...the government and society from Idiocracy, without the handjobs. Sartre was right.

      • by iluvcapra (782887)

        Personally I think this is a good thing. Better to spend money to do things the tried and true way than to experiment with a "hi-tech" solution that may or may not have exploitable weaknesses in it.

        I'm coming to take your computer back.

        Yours truly,
        Shade of Herman Hollerith.

      • Re:Surplus (Score:5, Insightful)

        by MightyMartian (840721) on Thursday April 03, 2008 @12:14PM (#22953250) Journal
        Generally when you are trying out new technology, you choose a few locales to be testbeds. That way you can determine whether or not the technology will work as advertised, and if it does, it gives you a chance to correct any bugs. To go out and buy three billion dollars worth the equipment and then decide that it doesn't work suggests to me that there are some severely incompetent people at the top of the chain.

        I feel the same way about voting machines. Test them out in a few places, get to know the equipment, and if you still figure it's going to work, you have a place to go. But this mass exodus from one system to another is just lunacy.
        • by Bryansix (761547)
          The one problem here is that the census only comes around once every 10 years.
        • They spent $600 million on trying to develop the handhelds.

          The $3Billion is what the paper alternative will cost now that the handhelds aren't happening.

      • Re:Surplus (Score:4, Informative)

        by $RANDOMLUSER (804576) on Thursday April 03, 2008 @12:35PM (#22953574)
        I'm sure it comes as a surprise to former House Speaker Dennis Hastert that he's from Nebraska - since he's from Illinois.
      • Re:Surplus (Score:5, Insightful)

        by timeOday (582209) on Thursday April 03, 2008 @12:45PM (#22953782)

        Personally I think this is a good thing. Better to spend money to do things the tried and true way than to experiment with a "hi-tech" solution that may or may not have exploitable weaknesses in it.
        I can't imagine WalMart, or any other successful business attempting to do inventory (yes, that's what a census amounts to) purely on paper because they can't get their act together, or have money to burn. This is just as frustrating as the IRS refusal to offer an official free tax filing website. $3 billion extra dollars! All for a census that's riddled with extra transcription errors and will obviously be entered into computers in the end anyways, to be of any use at all.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by hey! (33014)
          Well,not to excuse an other government IT debacle, you can't compare this to the stock taking apps you see on Intermecs and the like.

          First of all, the information on a census is more complex than counting the numbers of SKUs. It also contains sensitive personal data -- not that private industry doesn't deal with that too, but it has a thoroughly dismal record of protecting privacy. Also, while some widget might not be in the right aisle, it's not likely you'll find a bunch of stuff in a store that you di
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Otter (3800)
      That was my first thought too (Do they run Linux?) but I don't think they exist yet. It sounds like the $3 billion is mostly projected cost savings from the handhelds that won't be attained, not that there's $3 billion in handhelds sitting in a warehouse next to the Ark of the Covenant.

      (BTW, does everyone now have hideous Reply to This buttons on their comment display or do I need to refresh something?)

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by d3ac0n (715594)

        (BTW, does everyone now have hideous Reply to This buttons on their comment display or do I need to refresh something?)


        I've got them too. Big honking balloon-ish grey buttons. I don't mind buttons, but it would be nice if they used the same buttons as the "Post Comment" form "Preview" and "Submit" buttons. Those are much nicer.
        • Re: (Score:2, Offtopic)

          Yeah, they are hideous. The links didn't grab attention like these do, but they were available when someone wanted to post. Just too much contrast.

          I know that /. is trying to heed the call of time and modernize itself, but this is a step in the wrong direction imo. But then again, I don't like the new javascript discussion system either. I've been using Nested mode for years and that seems the best way to look at comments and keep track who is replying to what.
          • What I found funny was my brain was actually translating the grey buttons into slashdot green. Now that I look closer, they are indeed grey. And now all I see is the grey; no more slashdot green.

            Gee, thanks alot.
        • And why grey? They should at least be some version of green to keep with the color scheme.
      • not that there's $3 billion in handhelds sitting in a warehouse next to the Ark of the Covenant.

        The Ark is in the south wing; the handhelds are in the north wing in between the Roswell saucer and the automobile that runs on water.

    • by dubdays (410710)

      I certainly won't hold my breath, but they ought to sell them for a few cents on the dollar and donate the money to NASA, where funds get cut constantly, and a few million dollars goes a fairly long way.


      But the current administration would probably piss it away to the DoD....idiots.


      Dammit! I get a decent idea going, and then I remember the fuckers who are running this joint.

  • by gnutoo (1154137) on Thursday April 03, 2008 @11:57AM (#22952980) Journal

    I've done a census and think GPS enabled devices would greatly increase accuracy but it will also greatly increase costs. A sad fact is that people don't really go all the places they are supposed to go and honest enumerators don't last long in places that stick to quotas. GPS and time tracking devices will prove that the enumerator actually visted each and every place they should have. A mashup with something like Google maps will show if areas have been neglected. An honest census will take significantly more manpower than the one we have now.

    There are, of course, the same kinds of risks we have seen with electronic voting. The only solution is to be as transparent as possible. Non free software is a no-no.

    • How about doing a Google Android app? Cheap GPS enabled phones should soon be available, and there's still time to enter the developer challenge [blogspot.com]
  • by bstarrfield (761726) on Thursday April 03, 2008 @11:58AM (#22953006)

    Just another example of the mind boggling inefficiency and ineffectiveness of the current American administration. $3 billion dollars would cover roughly a week of expenses in Iraq - so the sum must be inconsequential.

    Or - $3 billion dollars could pay for the college tuition of thousands of students, could dramatically raise NSF funding, or could help rebuild our roads. Don't these people even shame anymore?

    One of the fun points about this is that the current Administration was elected (partially) on their supposed business expertise. Which appears to be actually true as many major businesses flub their own large scale IT projects.

    Well - given that we're running a fantastic deficit, we'll just throw the extra costs of the the census project into our staggering debt.

    • One of the fun points about this is that the current Administration was elected (partially) on their supposed business expertise. Which appears to be actually true as many major businesses flub their own large scale IT projects.

      First, TFA says $2.2 billion to $3 billion. Second, TFA says only some of those costs are associated with the handhelds vs. paper issue; the rest is due to increases in other costs (mainly gas and postage). Third, the original contract was for $595 million for devlopment. It is

    • Just another example of the mind boggling inefficiency and ineffectiveness of the current American administration

      As much as don't appreciate this current administration, I wouldn't put all the blame on them. I blame this on government an bureaucracy. Why this turned out to be so complicated in implement, beyond the changing requirement is hard to tell, then again if the range of changing requirements we that big, then this is certainly evidence of bad planning.

      In Canada our census forms are available both o
      • by Adambomb (118938)
        Its pretty easy to put the blame on them when the Clinton administration presided over the most consistent period of economic growth than the entire 35 years prior.

        Of course a good chunk of that was lost to the bubble collapse, and a good chunk of the gain was actually spurred by events in the Bush-Sr era, but thats still why its pretty easy heh.
    • by schwit1 (797399)
      "Just another example of the mind boggling inefficiency and ineffectiveness of the current American administration."

      Congress is as much involved in this program as Bush. The problem is that the federal government is too big, too incompetent, too focused on self-interest, and too focused on the next election cycle.

      We need a revolution that gives all power back to the states and then they decide what to give a federal entity.

      The founding fathers had it right in the beginning.
    • by d3ac0n (715594)
      *rolleyes*

      Just take your BDS and shove it. If you even bothered to RTFA, (or even think outside your BDS box for a SECOND) you would see that the Census is being run by The Census Bureau. NOT THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION! The waste was due to:

      "significant miscommunication concerning technical requirements between the Census Bureau and Harris"

      Why between them? Because:

      In 2006, the Census Bureau awarded a $595 million contract to Harris Corp. to develop more than 525,000 handheld computers that enumerators wou

    • I highly doubt that the Bush administration had anything to do with dictating what technology the census bureau uses to do its job.

      You may hate Bush, and that's fine, but blaming him for everything that you don't like is really quite silly. This is nothing more than 'Government Waste As Usual'.

      Government - no matter who is in charge - is wasteful and inefficient, which is one of the reasons why it should be as small as possible.
  • $10/person ?!? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by vijayiyer (728590) on Thursday April 03, 2008 @11:58AM (#22953012)
    It costs $10 _per person_ to count us? That's unbelievable. Perhaps if they just count people (as the Constitution requires) rather than gather race and demographic information, they could cut their costs.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by trooper9 (1205868)

      It costs $10 _per person_ to count us? That's unbelievable. Perhaps if they just count people (as the Constitution requires) rather than gather race and demographic information, they could cut their costs.
      If they did that, there wouldn't be enough information to allow groups to claim "victim" status for whatever social variable they perceive that sets them apart. Remember, the census does more than count, it helps us cordon-off certain groups on our Level Playing Field.
    • Re:$10/person ?!? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by eln (21727) on Thursday April 03, 2008 @12:12PM (#22953226) Homepage
      I bet if they just gave everyone $5 as an incentive to self report, you could get more accurate results at half the cost.
      • Yes, I like the sound of that system. Of course, I wouldn't self-report for $5 just as I won't use a supermarket loyalty card for 5000 "points", but you'd get 99% i'm sure.
    • by EricWright (16803)
      I think you missed the point. The $3B ($10/person) was just for the handheld computers. The actual cost is likely far greater (paying the census takers, printing forms, etc.)
    • Re:$10/person ?!? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Unordained (262962) * <unordained_slash ... @pseudotheos.com> on Thursday April 03, 2008 @12:37PM (#22953630) Homepage
      No. The cost is increasing by $3 billion (with a b). From the article:

      Gutierrez said reverting to a paper-based census, in addition to other costs not associated with the handhelds, is expected to increase the cost of the 2010 census to between $2.2 billion and $3 billion through fiscal year 2013. That would bring the total cost of the 2010 census to between $13.7 billion and $14.5 billion. He said the bureau would need an increase of $160 million to $230 million for fiscal 2008 to cover costs associated with returning to paper, with an additional $600 million to $700 million for fiscal 2009. Gutierrez added that the majority of the cost increases would occur in 2010

      So it actually costs somewhere around $37/person to count and classify each of us, or around 7 hours of minimum-wage labor. It's far worse than you think.

      Also, the handhelds were for field operatives collecting data from people who didn't send in their forms -- the cost estimate above includes the distribution and processing of paper forms that you fill out yourself, which you could reasonably expect to be cheaper than going door-to-door collecting data, thus increasing the per-person cost of personal data collection.
      • So it actually costs somewhere around $37/person to count and classify each of us... ...well, without counting us all, we can't be sure how much it costs per person :-)
  • There's got to be more to this story. FTA the original contract was $595M for 525K handhelds that were supposed to replace "costly" paper forms and maps?

    Does each enumerator REALLY use $1k in paper? I call mega-shennanigans.

    Hell they could have just bought every enumerator a macbook!
    • by TubeSteak (669689)

      There's got to be more to this story. FTA the original contract was $595M for 525K handhelds that were supposed to replace "costly" paper forms and maps?

      Does each enumerator REALLY use $1k in paper? I call mega-shennanigans.

      It's not just the physical cost of paper. Once you add in the cost of shuffling those papers around, doing the data entry, verifying the data entry, etc etc etc... it gets expensive real quick.

      There's a lot of bureaucracy in the Federal Government.

  • by Reality Master 201 (578873) on Thursday April 03, 2008 @12:00PM (#22953038) Journal
    Stop the waste now!

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      We're not at war with Iraq.

      So, I wonder who we're at war with.
      • The terrists, don'cha know - Al Qaida or Iran or generic "militants," depending on who you ask. Funny how it never seems to be people who are pissed about the fact that the US is still occupying their country.
  • Can't they just ask the CIA or NSA for the census information? I mean, they're already tracking the snot out of us anyway. Hell, they may know how many kids I have better than I do.
    • by ricegf (1059658)

      The information the CIA and NSA collects on us is classified, you doofus. They have to collect it all again so they'll have an unclassified copy.

      Duh.

    • by techpawn (969834)

      Hell, they may know how many kids I have better than I do.
      Yes we do. The roast smells great and don't forget to pick up Billy after school.
  • That is over 1 million per computer! And they use the term 'develop', does that even include the cost of the compter. Heck, I'll do it for 50,000$ per computer. Insane!

    In 2006, the Census Bureau awarded a $595 million contract to Harris Corp. to develop more than 525,000 handheld computers that enumerators would use to collect data from Americans who did not send in their census forms. The handhelds would replace the millions of costly paper forms and maps that enumerators must carry when going door to d
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      That is over 1 million per computer! And they use the term 'develop', does that even include the cost of the compter. Heck, I'll do it for 50,000$ per computer. Insane!

      Actually $595,000,000/525,000 = $1,133.33 per computer. While I, too, would be happy to do the job for $50,000.00 per computer, perhaps a quick refresher on approximations using exponential notation would be time well spent for you. :-)

      595*10^6 / 525*10^3 =ish 1.x*10^3

  • I read TFA. But it's still a mystery to me why things like this are so difficult. Same shit with voting machines. Why can't anyone develop a computerized voting system that exceeds every attribute of all other voting systems (inexpensive, simple, open, secure, reliable, maintainable, anonymous, auditable, etc.)?
    • by Vellmont (569020)

      Why can't anyone develop a computerized voting system that exceeds every attribute of all other voting systems (inexpensive, simple, open, secure, reliable, maintainable, anonymous, auditable, etc.)?

      Because very few people (and no it's not just government) have learned how to write a contract for software development, and the Big Software development companies know this. They get paid no matter if the project fails or not.

      The other big failing is getting all the requirements up front and not changing them.
    • by ricegf (1059658)
      Exactly. Everything that I've never tried has been easy, too.
  • The part I never understand about stories like this is why it never seems to be possible for the government to sue and recover costs from the contractors who failed.

    Are government procuring agents not sophisticated enough to write a binding contract? Or are these contracts really sweetheart deals, in which it's a tacit understanding that Harris gets $595 million as a gift, and in return are not actually expected to deliver anything more than paper proof that they kept themselves really busy?

    Why isn't Harris
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Mr.Dippy (613292)
      You just described Accenture's business model
    • by ricegf (1059658)

      Great! I'd like for you to develop an application for me. I'll sign a contract to pay you $595,000 for it. But you have to agree that, if I add 400 requirements a year into development, you have to keep the original schedule or else you pay me $3,000,000.

      Ready to sign? Hello?

  • This sounds like a fairly standard story for Large Software Projects that failed from the article.

    There's this belief that software can be developed with a "I want one of those doohickeys that makes my job easier. Give me the Final Product in 2 years" attitude. Then someone goes about trying to figure out what the doohickey is. Sometimes they do it right, other times they don't. Most of the time the people designing the system don't really know what they want.

    That's fine, people don't know what they wan
  • Thats about $8.50 per person if we guess 350 million people (I haven't been keeping up)
  • It takes a lot of guts and a lot of just plain good sense to look at a failing IT project and say, "This isn't salvageable; dump it instead of throwing good money after bad." Good for them!
  • I'm somewhat curious just what the device is intended to do. It strikes me that their needs should be something that could be handled by a java application written for any java-enabled cellphone handset, severing the requirements from the handset itself and allowing separate bids by cellphone manufacturers and network providers for the cellphone and communications portions of the program.

    In general, any tri or quad band cellphone with any (even very slow) data access and a real, simulated (touchscreen),

  • by plopez (54068) on Thursday April 03, 2008 @01:37PM (#22954508) Journal
    Basically they did things right.

    1) They tested 3 years in advance.

    2) When it became apparent they were no where near ready (approx. 400 new requirements) and that with the new reuirements, plus testing and training they would not meet their deadline they pulled the plug.

    Now if only the private sector would learn this...

CCI Power 6/40: one board, a megabyte of cache, and an attitude...

Working...