The vast majority of censuses conducted throughout U.S. history have relied heavily on physical people, offices and forms to collect an accurate count of the number of people living in the country.

But next year, the Census Bureau plans to scale back the number of personnel and offices it relies on, while changing how the people they do hire are trained.

“Counting the nation’s approximately 140 million households is an enormous undertaking requiring such essential logistics as the opening of hundreds of area offices to conduct essential field activities, recruiting and hiring hundreds of thousands of temporary workers to carry out those activities, and developing an approach to training those employees,” a July 19 Government Accountability office report on census preparation activities said.

“To help control costs while maintaining accuracy, the Bureau is making significant changes in each of these areas compared to prior decennials.”

According to the report the Census Bureau is opening approximately half of the number of field offices it used for the 2010 census and hiring about a third fewer selected operations staff.

The staff that the agency does hire, rather than receiving predominantly instructor-led training as was used in 2010, will combine that training with computer programs and hands-on lessons.

Census Bureau officials have said that they also plan to rely more heavily on online responses, which could reduce the cost of sending personnel to collect responses and expedite processing of responses.

According to the GAO report, the Census Bureau has signed leases for all but one of their planned offices and has been exceeding recruiting goals for their early operations.

The agency has struggled to hire partnership specialists, as low unemployment has resulted in fewer people wanting to take the work. Partnership specialists are important to a successful census, as they serve as trusted community members that can encourage their neighbors to participate in the survey.

The Census Bureau has, however, fallen behind in developing goals and performance measures for evaluating its new training approach, and the agency agreed with GAO’s recommendation to revise plans for such performance measures.

Jessie Bur covers federal IT and management.

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