- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 24, 2008


The No. 2 official at the Census Bureau is stepping down amid criticism the agency bungled a technology contract, adding billions to the cost of the 2010 count while jeopardizing its accuracy.

Deputy Census Director Preston Jay Waite said yesterday he is retiring after nearly 38 years at the agency to spend more time with his family in Utah. He said he had been planning to leave earlier but stayed when the technology problems came to light.

Mr. Waite, 62, is described in a Census Bureau biography as the architect of the 2010 census, though he is leaving just as the agency is gearing up for the constitutionally mandated count, which will be used to apportion seats in Congress and to calculate more than $300 billion a year in state and federal grants.

“I am comfortable that I can leave at this time and the census will be just fine,” Mr. Waite said. “I believe we have rectified some of the problems. We have a plan.”

The Census Bureau announced earlier this month that technology problems will prevent it from upgrading the 2010 census into the first truly high-tech count in the nation’s history. Workers were to use hand-held computers to count the millions of residents who do not return census forms mailed out by the government. Instead, census takers will return to using paper and pencil.

That and other changes will add as much as $3 billion to the cost of the count, pushing the overall cost to more than $14 billion, according to the Commerce Department, which oversees the Census Bureau.

Bush administration officials have described an agency that was unprepared to manage the contract for the hand-held computers, blaming census officials for doing a poor job of spelling out technical requirements to the contractor, Florida-based Harris Corp.

The devices, which look like fancy cell phones, will still be used to verify every residential street address in the country, using Global Positioning System software.

But workers going door to door will not be able to use them to collect information from residents who didn’t return their census forms. About one-third of U.S. residents are expected not to return the forms. The Census Bureau plans to hire and train nearly 600,000 temporary workers to do the canvassing.

Census Director Steven Murdock said that Mr. Waite has been “a driving force during times of great change, innovation, difficulty and growth.” He said another career employee, Thomas Mesenbourg, will take over as acting deputy director.

Mr. Murdock, the former state demographer for Texas, just took over as director at the beginning of the year. He replaced Louis Kincannon, who had announced his resignation in November 2006.

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