FEBRUARY 03, 2011
In a classic case of government incompetence, a faulty computer system likely skewed 2010 census data just as federal auditors predicted nearly a year ago in a lengthy report to Congress.Because appropriate action was not taken to correct the problems, crucial census figures—used to determine seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and to distribute hundreds of billions of dollars—may have been negatively affected. The“instability” and “inadequacies” in the defective system also cost taxpayers a lot of money, according to the Commerce Department Inspector General.In a previous probe, investigators from the same federal watchdog essentially predicted this would happen. In a May 2010 quarterly report to Congress, the Commerce Department Inspector General warned of an “unstable” information technology system with “frequent outages and reliability problems.” Besides suffering accuracy problems, the deficiencies had added $1.6 million in costs, according to that assessment.The bottom line was made clear to lawmakers; unless the computer system’s stability “improves substantially” costs and the “accuracy of its count are at risk.” Around the same time, a separate report issued by the investigative arm of Congress, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), reiterated the assessment, stating that the system wasn’t stable and “did not function reliably” in tests.Evidently the warnings from two different watchdogs were not taken seriously and the decennial count was marred with problems, according to the latest quarterly census report issued to lawmakers by the Commerce IG. “Census was forced to work in what can best be described as crisis management mode, repairing technical problems and developing clerical workarounds and automated contingencies,” it says in part.The U.S. Census Bureau was also plagued by several other scandals last year, including a multi million-dollar advertising campaign catering to illegal immigrants and knowingly hiring a registered sex offender with a long criminal history to make home visits. The agency also came under fire for spending a chunk of change on paraphernalia sporting its official logo and refusing to disclose the tab.
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