Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Government Program, Employees: Efficient, Productive

At least when it comes to the United States Census which cost $1.6 billion less than expected. Savings are attributed in part to "workforce productivity across field operations"--the folks that knocked on your door if you did not return your census form.

16 comments:

Colin said...

Wait a second -- the 2000 Census cost $6.7 billion to perform, the 2010 Census is coming in at $13.1 billion, and we're bragging about how efficient it is? When did performing the same job for twice the money become a bragging right?

If you want efficient go look at Finland, where their most recent census cost them only 20 cents a head, versus $36 for the US.

The fact that the Census spent less than budgeted tells us nothing. If I budget $100 for a trip to McDonald's, but only spend $10, it says nothing about how well I manage my money.

Colin said...

Oh, and if you are curious about inflation between 1991 (when presumably the 2000 census cycle began) and today, $6.7 billion is equal to $10.42 billion. But of course that is overly generous on my part, as it stands to reason most of that money was spent during the actual census in 2000. $6.7 billion in 2000 dollars is equal to $8.26 billion today.

Ben said...

The fact that the Census spent less than budgeted tells us nothing. If I budget $100 for a trip to McDonald's, but only spend $10, it says nothing about how well I manage my money.

That's ridiculous.

Colin said...

OK, more appropriately, if I budget $14.70 for lunch at McDonald's, and only spend $13.10, but my last inflation-adjusted lunch only cost me $8.26, is that really worth applauding?

I mean, I realize the left has to seize on any evidence of government efficiency that it can, but come on.

Ben said...

Also, Finland's census costs are so low because they use a register-based method rather than a questionnaire-based method. Finland's census cost much more when they, like the US, used a questionnaire based method. Given how upset folks on your side of the aisle got over the idea of using statistical sampling for greater accuracy, it seems unlikely that a register-based system (even if deemed constitutional) could be implemented.

Colin said...

OK, and keeping with the analogy, I should point out that the extra $1.60 for the trip to McDonald's was because I thought it might rain and would need to take the bus, but it was sunny and I didn't. (note the part about the Census not needing the extra money because feared weather calamities didn't pan out)

Ben said...

OK, more appropriately, if I budget $14.70 for lunch at McDonald's, and only spend $13.10, but my last inflation-adjusted lunch only cost me $8.26, is that really worth applauding?


Fair enough so long as the two censuses are comparable. If the 2010 is more accurate then maybe the added cost is worth it--obviously this will depend on whether (and to what degree) it is more accurate than the 2000 census.

Look, with the panoply of government funded projects--particular government funded projects carried out by the private sector--that run over cost, obviously I'm happy to see something come in under budget. Even if some of that budget savings were due to bad things not happening. Had the contingencies not been budgeted and planned for, and had they happened, I am quite willing to bet that you would have howled about government mismanagement.

Colin said...

I'm perfectly aware of how Finland achieved this, but the point stands that they achieved more with less. Finland decided that the data they needed could already be found through existing data sources, and didn't see the point in collecting data that already existing.

Folks on my side of the aisle -- I am a registered Libertarian, after all -- had no say in the matter. And given that the GOP doesn't control the Census either, I'm not sure how much control they exerted either.

Colin said...

I am quite willing to bet that you would have howled about government mismanagement.

Hell, I think the Census can be criticized as is -- I'm thinking of the $2.5 million that was paid to air a single Census TV ad during the Super Bowl. Ridiculous.

But that is pocket change compared to this screw-up.

And let's not forget this either.

You have to be pretty committed to the big government cause to survey this and declare it any kind of success or something worth lauding.

Ben said...

You have to be pretty committed to the big government cause to survey this and declare it any kind of success or something worth lauding.

No, you merely have to not be ideologically committed to portraying everything done by the federal government as a Big Government Failure. We are constitutionally bound to conduct the census. As such, the census is going to cost money. Where it costs less than projected--both due to good luck and the vast majority of the people hired to conduct it doing an excellent, efficient, and professional job--I will chalk that up as a success.

I'm sorry you think the Super Bowl ads were a waste. Clearly, some one whose job it was to make sure the census is as accurate as possible thought it would improve responses. Maybe that was a poor choice. Or maybe it contributed to the improved response rate this year, saving the government and the tax payer the cost of more hourly wages for door-to-door canvassers. I don't have the data to make that assessment; perhaps you do.

Colin said...

The Census achieved its task using a bloated budget that was at least 50% greater than the previous effort (even though the population had only grown by roughly 10%). Billions have been documented in waste. And this is success? Talk about lowering the bar.

The fact that the government has been so profligate and wasteful in accomplishing one of the core missions it is tasked with should prompt everyone to wonder why it should be charged with additional responsibilities.

As for the ad, I'll just note that among a focus group conductd by USAToday that it scored as the 52nd most popular ad -- out of 63.

Ben said...

Why don't you provide a bar? What level of spending is worthwhile? 10% more because that's the increase in population? 50% more (because for this you want to ignore inflation) if its accuracy is improved by 50%? As far as I can tell, Colin, you'd be happy only with no spending on census whatsoever. Of course, this is impossible unless you amend the constitution. Again, the world we live in requires some spending on the census--so let's assume it will cost something, how much should it cost?

A good way to lower cost would be to allow statistical sampling--which would also improve the accuracy of the census. Perhaps your party, so dedicated to small government--ahem--ought to get out of the way next time so we can reduce cost.

Ben said...

As for the ad, I'll just note that among a focus group conductd by USAToday that it scored as the 52nd most popular ad -- out of 63.

Obviously that means it had no effect and did not encourage the greater response rate.

C'mon, Colin, you want to color the advertising as wasteful, let's find some data that can bear that out--its not being the Belle of the Ball hardly qualifies.

Colin said...

Why don't you provide a bar? What level of spending is worthwhile? 10% more because that's the increase in population?

No, actually I would have given them zero dollars more. The $13.1 billion that was actually spent comes out to $43 per person (assuming population of 305 million). Canada performed their most recent census in 2006 for $567 million, which comes out to $17 Canadian per person, or US $16.30 per person. This suggests the job can be done for at *least* half of what we are currently spending.

50% more (because for this you want to ignore inflation) if its accuracy is improved by 50%?

Want to ignore inflation? Um, the 2000 Census in inflation adjusted terms was $8.26 billion today ($6.7 billion in 2000 dollars). $13.1 billion minus $8.26 billion is $4.84 billion. So you're right, it's not 50% greater, it's 58.5% greater. You may want to check your math before you throw around accusations of me ignoring inflation.

Meanwhile, do we have any evidence that it was 50% more accurate? Or is this just a complete guess on your part?

As far as I can tell, Colin, you'd be happy only with no spending on census whatsoever.

Another unfounded accusation. Indeed, I referred to the Census as one of government's "core missions," so I have no idea how you arrived at this conclusion. I think there is a HUGE amount of distance between believing that $13.1 is rather profligate and wanting zero spending. I'll just chalk this up to hyperbole.

Of course, this is impossible unless you amend the constitution. Again, the world we live in requires some spending on the census

Again, this is a strawman as I never said spending on the Census should be zero. Rather the thrust of my argument is that spending $13+ billion on the Census is hardly cause for celebration and there are documented examples of literally billions in waste.

--so let's assume it will cost something, how much should it cost?

Again, the Canada example is instructive.

A good way to lower cost would be to allow statistical sampling--which would also improve the accuracy of the census. Perhaps your party, so dedicated to small government--ahem--ought to get out of the way next time so we can reduce cost.

Well, I have already said before it's not my party, so I am not sure why you continue with this. But as for statistical sampling, as I recall the argument was not that it should be done in order to save money, but rather to get a more accurate count, as it was alleged that the 2000 Census didn't accurately count certain constituencies which tend to vote Democratic. I don't recall the cost argument ever being used, although it is absolutely possible I am wrong on this point. Personally, I am open to any Census method -- including that used by the Scandinavians -- which captures Census data in an accurate and less costly manner.

Colin said...

C'mon, Colin, you want to color the advertising as wasteful, let's find some data that can bear that out--its not being the Belle of the Ball hardly qualifies.

Ben, given that *you* are the one who favors spending taxpayer money, I think it is incumbent upon *you* to demonstrate its effectiveness, not for me to demonstrate its ineffectivness.

Colin said...

Today's Washington Post has an article. on the subject which sheds some important light:

[Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.)] noted that the original census budget was closer to $11 billion, but grew when the agency abandoned plans to use special handheld computers to compile data.

So the original budget was $11 billion, but the Census had a boondoggle with its computers which wasted further billions and pushed up the budget to $14.7 billion. So the $13.1 spent is properly viewed as a 19% cost overrun, not some kind of savings.

As for the argument that additional expenditures might result in better performance, the Post article also notes that the "72 percent response rate this year [was] on par with the 2000 count."