U.S. Census: PDA Promise Slips Away

Despite much fanfare during the past two years, the Census Bureau has decided to cancel its plan to equip census takers with PDA devices developed by the Harris Corporation (2007 VARBusiness 500 rank 23).

Almost two years ago to the day, Harris announced it had been selected by the U.S. Census Bureau for the five-year, $600 million Field Data Collection Automation (FDCA) program. The aim of the FDCA program was to fully integrate the multiple automated systems required to obtain field census data for the 2010 Census.

The plans seemed to be moving apace: Early last year, Harris announced that it had successfully demonstrated a unique wireless PDA to be used by 500,000 census takers -- and noted that the FDCA would ultimately save taxpayers $1 billion.

However, between then and now, the cost of the 2010 census is said to have risen to $11 billion, the most costly ever. This week, Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez told Congress his department will scrap plans to use the handheld computers -- move that will likely increase costs another $3 billion. He noted that his organization had failed to properly communicate requirements to the contractor.

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The Feds pulled the plug reportedly because costs of the contract had skyrocketed to more than double its original $600 million price tag, coupled with its conclusion that the devices would be too difficult for census takers to use.