The Commerce Department: Census Bureau

The Commerce Department’s Census Bureau and its private-sector partners inaugurated the first of four data capture centers, which altogether processed more than 120 million Census 2000 questionnaires. The center is located in Baltimore County just outside the city of Baltimore. “The data centers represent a key, initial step in the Commerce Department’s massive effort to ensure the most accurate and fair census, the largest civilian mobilization in our nation’s history,” Commerce Secretary William M. Daley said in a statement issued by his office. “We need to have the most accurate and timely data about who we are and how we live our lives.”

Census Bureau Director Kenneth Prewitt said, “Speed and accuracy are paramount in this important operation. We worked with our partners, contractors and subcontractors TRW, Computer Science Corporation, Lockheed Martin and others to develop a state-of-the-art facility that could process millions of questionnaires faster and more accurately than ever before.” “Just handling about 40 million questionnaires is a huge job and called for a facility with special requirements,” said project manager William Russell. “Our partnerships allow us to draw upon private-sector expertise in assembling such a state-of-the-art facility.”

From the outside, the 224,000-square-foot Baltimore County facility resembles a huge warehouse. It contains 56 miles of cabling and four receiving doors for questionnaire delivery and will employ between 2,000 and 2,500 people as warehouse and data entry clerks, as well as mail sorter and scanner operators, at the peak of questionnaire processing. Eventually, it is expected that the Baltimore County facility will process about a third of all the questionnaires that are mailed back.

For the first time, optical character scanners will be used to process census questionnaires. These scanners recognize hand-written responses, not just filled-in ovals or boxes. Using special software, the scanned images are processed and translated into computer code. Then the responses are transmitted electronically to Census Bureau headquarters for statistical processing and analysis.

The Census Bureau guarantees that the answers given on census forms are kept strictly confidential and never shared. Information collected in Census 2000 has provided local area data needed for communities to receive federal program funds and for private sector and community planning.

Michael Oles, General Manager for Native Sons Ltd, was electrical/security Project Executive. The electrical scope of work included power and controls for the mail sorters, optical readers, scanners, and computers, fire detection and alarm, security, cctv, and lighting and power for sorting, receiving, office and warehouse space. The project was originally design and bid, but was converted to design/build as the electrical characteristics changed to accommodate the equipment selected for the sorting and reading operations. The electrical distribution system utilized the existing building services for lighting, a new 277/480v service for power and hvac and included 4 independent UPS systems to sustain power to all of the electronic equipment. The existing buildings structural restraints required creative methods for power distribution. The electrical scope of work for this facility also required extensive access control, perimeter security and physical hardening of the existing building. The security requirements were developed after the project was 75% complete and required the electrical contractor to fast-track the design and installation of the overlapping systems.

All aspects of the security upgrades were included in the electrical subcontract including the additions of exterior barriers, bollards and planters. The facility was completed 4 weeks ahead of schedule. Burns and McDonnell Construction of Kansas City, MO was the general contractor; Matt Nordhus project executive, Tony Sommers project manager. TRW Systems and Information Technology Group was the program manager; Owen Klug program manager. Computer Sciences Corp was the facility operator and Lockheed Martin held the prime contract with the government.