Of all the new census procedures, producing a nearly complete address list and obtaining a high mail response rate remain the cornerstone of a high-quality census. The other procedures are designed to complement these two main steps by ensuring that high quality is maintained even if address list development and the mail return process fall short of perfection.
During the 1990s the Census Bureau conducted an address list improvement program that included making use of U.S. Postal Service files and input from local officials. Because these efforts were not sufficient, the Bureau has instituted plans for a nationwide field check of addresses prior to the 2000 census. The panel strongly endorses these newly instituted procedures.
Through research early in the 1990s, the Census Bureau also determined that provision of a replacement form targeted to mail nonrespondents would likely yield substantial improvements in mail response rates. The panel endorsed both the process used to evaluate that research and the subsequent changes to the form and to the techniques used to encourage mail response. However, all research regarding the mailing of a replacement form was specific only for households that failed to respond to the initial mailing—and the Census Bureau subsequently determined that it could not implement such a targeted replacement operation in the time available. Therefore, the 1998 census dress rehearsal tested the process of sending a replacement form to all households. The panel believes that it is critical to measure the effects of the use of an untargeted replacement form, especially its effects on respondent cooperation and the effectiveness of the unduplication process used for households that return both forms. An analysis of dress rehearsal results should be performed to help decide whether to use an untargeted replacement form in the 2000 census.
Making forms available at public places was successfully tested in 1995. If the dress rehearsal results confirm that this program is beneficial (i.e., if the number of duplicate submissions of census questionnaires is considered small or if the unduplication process is considered to be of high enough quality), the panel believes this procedure will afford some gains in response at relatively little cost. In addition, the concept may have public relations benefits, as suggested in work with focus groups.