The final report of the Panel to Review the 2000 Census includes a rich and detailed history of the evolution of the 2000 census design and a review of its operations (see especially National Research Council, 2004:Ch. 3, 5). Given the material in that volume, we do not intend to repeat a comprehensive history of the 2000 census in these pages but rather to review major milestones and problems in the 2000 census planning process.
By many accounts, the planning process for the 2000 census was fraught with risk and ultimately chaotic. In 1997, the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) added the 2000 decennial census to its short list of high-risk programs, citing failure to finalize and justify to Congress a basic census design. In 1990, “the most expensive census in history produced results that were less accurate than those of the preceding census” (U.S. General Accounting Office, 1997:142), and GAO worried that the cycle could repeat—that billions of dollars invested in the 2000 census might produce results that were not of demonstrably better quality than those of the 1990 census.
To a great extent, 2000 census planning was dominated by ongoing debate over the role of sample-based methods in the census. The Census Bureau’s initial plans in the mid-1990s relied heavily on sampling in two respects: first, the Bureau would focus nonresponse follow-up efforts on a sample of households that did not return their census forms and, second, the results of a major postenumeration survey would be used to adjust census totals to reflect estimated undercount. The former application became known as sampling for nonresponse follow-up (SNRFU) while the planned postenumeration survey was known as Integrated Coverage Measurement (ICM). The Census Bureau’s vision at the time was a “one-number census,” producing a single set of population estimates using ICM results rather than a dual-track approach of publishing both adjusted and unadjusted figures.
Both applications of sampling—and, with them, the overall plan for the 2000 census—would ultimately be shaped by intervention first by Congress in 1997 and then by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1999. The 1997 legislation (Public Law 105-119, §209)