The Census Bureau decided as long ago as 2000 that handheld computers were the future, and spent four years trying to develop one in-house, with little to show for it. That earlier failure led to the contract with Harris in 2006. As usual in government, no one in particular seems to be taking responsibility for the serial failures – which of course is part of the problem. There is little incentive for getting it right, because no one below the level of a political appointee ever loses a job for getting it wrong. You can even lose your job for getting it right if it means more efficiency.Sadly, the government doesn't seem to have the same incentive.
In the case of the botched handhelds, the result is that the Census will now have to deploy some 600,000 temporary workers to go door to door and get the forms filled out by hand. The handhelds will still be used for "address canvassing," although even at that they can't handle more than 700 addresses at a time. For this great leap backward, taxpayers will pay $3 billion more for the census than originally estimated.
At a recent Senate Commerce hearing, Oklahoma's Tom Coburn put this in perspective: "So we're still going to pay $600, four times what the American [tax]payer should be paying, for something that can be done on a $150 BlackBerry." He added: "A $400 iPhone can do twice as much as the $600 handheld. You could buy iPhones and do all of this."
We would add that FedEx and UPS use handheld computers to track more than 22 million packages, all over the world, each and every day. Their computers work because their business depends on it.
Thursday, May 01, 2008
The Wall Street writes up the sad case of the Census Bureau's attempt to jump into the future by getting hand-held computers for their door-to-door canvassing for people who don't send in their census forms. Unsurprisingly, the government is vastly more inefficient than private business would be in addressing its own needs.