Count Me In: How the Census Reached New Heights

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The government relies on U.S. Census data to make crucial decisions that impact every American.  From where to build new roads, hospitals and libraries to where to draw Congressional districts, a lot is riding on accurate Census data.  That’s why it’s important for every resident to be counted – and for that counting to be extraordinarily precise.  In the late 90s, Lockheed Martin began designing an unprecedented new technology to push accuracy for the 2000 and 2010 Censuses to never-before-seen heights.

This new optical character recognition technology, introduced in the 2000 Census and perfected for use in the 2010 Census, was the first large-scale system to read human handwriting off of Census forms.  And it read that handwriting – from perfect penmanship to scrawled out chicken scratch – with unmatched precision.  In 2010, the team’s systems reached an accuracy rate of 99.98 percent across hundreds of millions of forms, well above the government’s required accuracy of 99.8 percent.

And they are not boosting performance simply for bragging rights. That kind of uber-accuracy translates directly into greater efficiency and bottom-line savings for the Census Bureau. By eliminating more than 80 percent of the traditional manual entry used for past U.S. Census data capture, the Lockheed Martin team slashed costs by tens of millions, even while processing a record 167 million forms in 2010. When the massive effort was concluded, the Census Bureau returned $1.6 billion to the federal government, thanks in part to the operational savings generated by Lockheed Martin and other contractors.

Not only was the Lockheed Martin contracting team under budget, they finished the job in six months, right on the important schedule mandated by law. This was in major part due to the Lockheed Martin team’s use of its industry-leading optical character processing, which during peak periods handled as many as 2.5 million forms every 24 hours. Picking up where machine readers left off, live operators handled the kind of call volume that would short-circuit most corporate call centers: Lockheed Martin team members answered 4.4 million inquiries and placed 7.4 million outgoing calls in order to complete all the 2010 census forms on hand.

Lockheed Martin leverages its census expertise to serve other countries as well. It was the prime census contractor for the United Kingdom in 2001 and 2011, and provided the system solution for the Canadian government for forms processing in 2006 and 2011.The 2006 Canadian census was the first in North America to give residents the choice of submitting their census information to a secure Internet site.

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